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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

As wildfire anniversary looms, need for nurses is high

As they watched the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina unfold on television, retired nurse Connie Hoffer and her husband knew they wanted to reach out to the victims of the tragedy in any way they could.

“I saw an appeal for 40,000 nurses across the country to respond,” Connie said. “I said OK, that is something I could probably do.” Together, she and her husband took the requisite Red Cross courses and Connie soon found herself tending to infants, seniors and families affected by the storm, at a shelter in the small town of Baker, La. “We had about 300 people ranging in age from a week old infant to a woman who was more than 100.”

Since her first deployment, Connie grew into her current role as Nurse Leader. She works to coordinate and recruit new nurses, as well as directing the efforts of health services volunteers. With extensive training and an uncanny ability to think on their feet, nurses are among the most valuable volunteer assets the Red Cross can deploy in times of disaster relief. But currently, nurses are needed more than ever in the Pikes Peak region, which was hit hard by the 2012 wildfire season. As the one-year anniversary of the Waldo Canyon fire approaches, the Pikes Peak chapter of the Red Cross is putting out a call for volunteer nurses, in the hope that the chapter will be fully prepared in the event of another devastating fire season.

“There is certainly a great need for nurses,” Connie said, “Particularly young nurses, who have more of the energy to work the 12 hour shifts, are really needed.” The Fort Collins region, she said, is also seeking health services volunteers.

In situations like the 2005 response to Hurricane Katrina and last year’s fire disasters, nurses played an integral role in the services the Red Cross was able to provide. Nurses who can respond quickly and assess complex triage situations are especially valuable to disaster relief efforts, but as Connie stated, “There really is a place for every kind of nurse in the Red Cross.”

A diverse and multi-talented corps of nurses is the best way to approach the diverse group of clients the Red Cross response is presented with. What makes a good Red Cross nurse, and what can a nurse expect from this kind of volunteer engagement? According to Connie, “It takes a lot of flexibility, and thinking outside the box to meet the needs of the people you’re serving.”  She recalls a situation where a nurse noticed that some time had gone by since she heard a newborn infant cry in the shelter she was serving. Her observation saved the child’s life; the baby was dehydrated and the nurse’s quick deduction resulted in life-saving treatment. “You need to be able to continue to think, but know that what you do has the potential to make a big impact on the people you’re serving.”

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