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.
The afternoon of March 14 was a typical spring day in New Orleans. The weather forecast called for low humidity and mild 60 degrees. Downtown New Orleans, on the seventh floor of Charity School of Nursing, Roslyn Pruitt, RN, and I met Michelle De Lima, DNP, Assistant Professor at Delgado Community College and assistant faculty at Charity School of Nursing. Dr. De Lima facilitates the BSN nursing students from Molloy College in Rockville Centre, New York, when they are in New Orleans for their annual service learning trip.
For the past seven years, Molloy College students enrolled in the course, "Homelessness and Humanism in the Post-Katrina Environment," have come to New Orleans to be a part of the post-Katrina rebuilding efforts. The course is intended for undergraduate nursing students who wish to experience community service learning within the context of the homeless population in a post disaster environment. Before they arrive in New Orleans, they must complete a multidisciplinary review of the literature and submit a paper on social justice. Participation in the course is competitive — over 40 students applied for the 10 slots for this nursing program.
The students arrived in New Orleans accompanied by Kathleen M. Lamaute, EdD, FNP-BC, NEA-BC, CNE, a professor at Molloy and the Individual Membership Division Chair for the American Nurses Association. The group visited St. Joseph’s Rebuild Center, which is located behind St. Joseph’s Church on Canal Street, within walking distance of Charity School of Nursing. The center is a coalition of Catholic and other faith-based organizations serving the needy and displaced residents of the Canal Street corridor to rebuild their lives and repopulate this neighborhood.
They also toured Louisiana State University School of Health Sciences and the LSU Interim Clinic. Meeting with students and faculty from different schools they discussed working conditions during Hurricane Katrina and Katrina’s impact on health care in New Orleans.
“Each day the students spent time at the Rebuild Center, getting to know the stories of many of the people who go there,” explained Dr. Lamaute. “They helped out with some chores, but the main focus was to get to know the people – their names and their stories.”
Disaster preparedness training is part of the curriculum for Molloy College nursing students and many of the students experienced disaster first-hand during Hurricane Sandy. The students worked in shelters and hospitals in NYC and witnessed the extensive damage to Nassau and Suffolk Counties, two of the four counties that makeup Long Island. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimated ten percent of the 948,540 households in the two counties had some flooding or storm damage and that over 95,000 buildings in the two counties were either damaged or destroyed.
The students were interested in hearing from first responders during Katrina and learning about health problems that have presented in the population since. Of interest was how Nursing in the Storm: Voices from Hurricane Katrina evolved. I told them about our challenges to reach nurses since the area’s population was displaced by the hurricane. Theses nurses were courageous when they served at their hospitals and when they shared their stories with us for the book.
Roslyn Pruitt touched on her experiences working as Incident Commander of Lindy Boggs Medical Center, located five miles from where we were meeting the students. Roslyn told the group, “It is important that you take personal responsibility for yourself during a disaster. Wherever you go, make sure you avail yourself of opportunities for emergency preparedness as part of your educational and work experience. Participate in emergency preparedness. Be mindful that you are always a nurse first and foremost, and you carry the responsibility of caring for your patients.”
The hospital where Rosyln worked never reopened after the hurricane. Today, the hospital is a construction site for an interdisciplinary campus that will include a skilled nursing home, out-patient services and medical offices.
Before our meeting ended we asked the students to tell us about their career plans. It was reaffirming to listen to these future nurses who are making their mark in a post-disaster community and continuing the dialog about lessons learned. We are grateful for their service.