Natural or man-made, disasters can be frightening, chaotic, and tragic events. In these events, nurses play a fundamental role in response and patient care. In our series, “Nursing and Disasters”, prominent voices in the field give voice to ensure that all nurses are personally and professionally prepared for a disaster.
Betty Sparks, RN, started her nursing career more than 30 years ago. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks she has been a member of one of Massachusetts’ Disaster Medical Assistance Teams. In a CBS interview following the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon she said, “I’m trained to go to disasters. I’ve been to Katrina. I’ve been to Haiti. You name a disaster and I have responded to it.”
For eight years this Newton-Wellesley Hospital nurse has been a volunteer working the medical tent at the Boston Marathon. Her daughter-in-law, also an ER nurse, was running for the first time in the marathon. Betty was among the first responders in the aftermath of the two bombings. She is grateful that she could help. “I feel privileged that I can do that. I feel privileged that I have the skills.”
Across the country, alerts went out to emergency responders. In New Orleans, Cynthia Davidson, AS-N, JD, is the Administrative Designated Regional Coordinator for hospital emergency preparedness and response in Louisiana Region 1, the greater New Orleans area. She also serves as a representative on the Louisiana Emergency Response Network. During her 30 year career, she had held positions as a chief nursing officer and hospital chief executive officer. She spent 12 years in the Army Nurse Corps and U.S. Army Reserve as a member of a combat support hospital. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005 she was an original member of the Greater New Orleans Healthcare Taskforce, created to assist in restoring health care services in Region 1.
Within minutes after the Boston bombing Cynthia received the national alerts and was able to watch some of the happenings as they unfolded in media report. In her position as regional coordinator, she notified all National Disaster Medical Services (NDMS) hospitals in the region to be on alert. An NDMS hospital is one that has signed an agreement with the Federal government to accept patients in the event of a national disaster.
“In our region, Emergency Medical Services and hospitals have developed Mass Casualty plans together. There are two written plans for the responders and receivers which complement each other,” says Cynthia. “We practice the plans yearly with tabletop exercises and drills. Additionally, hospitals have surge plans which incorporate surging staff for different times of day. When there is not a shift change, hospital departments have a call down plan. Additionally, if called for, there is a Disaster Standards of Care Guidelines.”
Many times nurses do not receive the training on the Emergency Medical plans that their hospitals have adopted. Cindy recommends the nurses be proactive on determining if their hospital has surge, disaster standards of care and evacuation plans “because nurses carry out most of these plans. Also, find out if your hospital is a NDMS facility. If it is, than you will know automatically if a national emergency happens, you may have to respond.”
In the immediate aftermath of the Boston bombings, first responders rushed to aid hundreds of people. Three days later, President Barack Obama addressing first responders and volunteers in Boston, said, “My main message..is just to say how proud the whole country is of you--how grateful we are--how grateful we are that in the face of chaos and tragedy, all of you displayed the very best of the American spirit. You displayed grit. You displayed compassion. You displayed civic duty. You displayed courage. And when we see that kind of spirit, there’s something about that that's infectious. It makes us all want to be better people. You’ve inspired the entire country. You’ve inspired the world. And for that, you should be profoundly proud.”