How to help Haiti? Send in the Nurses

In the days since a massive earthquake in Haiti on January 12 left tens of thousands dead and thousands more wounded, tens of thousands of U.S. Nurses have offered their assistance. If Haitians are ever going to recover from this devastation, they are going to need nurses, and lots of them.

Haiti’s health-care infrastructure has basically crumbled. Many health care providers were killed in the earthquake. The local doctors and nurses who survived may be injured themselves and in shock. Most hospitals and clinics are either destroyed or overrun. Medicine and medical supplies are in short supply.

So far, more than 8,000 U.S. nurses have, in a response organized by National Nurses United and the renowned California Nurses Association, signaled their readiness to deploy to Haiti as soon as possible. The NNU and CAN is working with the U.S. Government and other nations as part of an international relief effort. “As reports of dire medical care shortages continue to pour in, we have thousands of registered nurses willing and ready to travel to Haiti”, says NNU Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro. “We are doing everything in our power to get these nurses engaged as quickly as possible.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services wants to coordinate the operations so healthcare teams can go to where they are needed most to support those already working in the ravaged country. The HHS has 270 medical workers in Haiti now and is planning to send more. DMAT teams from Massachusetts, New Jersey, Florida, Georgia and California are in Haiti. Some are working in an urgent care center set up on a soccer field, some are working in the airport with those who are leaving the country and some are working at the U.S. Embassy while others are helping to staff various hospitals. Most of the nurses that are working with governmental and nongovernmental organizations have some sort of expertise and training with disaster relief, say representatives of those organizations.

“Nurses are, by nature, people who want to help. There’s a lot of energy and a lot of willingness to be generous and give time,” says Elizabeth Sloand, CRNP, PHD, who has traveled to Haiti many times in her work as an assistant professor in the department of acute and chronic care at John Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore and is preparing to return. The American Red Cross suggest that nurses sign up with a database created by the Center for International Disaster Information, which will take their names and information about language abilities and their specialties. The information will be offered to international non-governmental organizations looking for volunteers to go to Haiti. In the meantime, nurses can volunteer at their local Red Cross for work that might include aiding evacuees in certain regions. The National Nurses United union has more than 12,000 nurses signed up to go to Haiti but is still working on getting some of those nurses deployed. Although the process is frustrating, there is a long-term need for more nurses in Haiti so the representative from various aid groups encourage nurses to hang in there and be patient.

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