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In the last few months, we've been riveted on the devastation in Haiti and Chile. The tragedy and suffering go to the very core of our humanitarian nature. The question of how to help resonates among us. Following the example of others after Hurricane Katrina, some nurses joined groups that self-deployed to Haiti. A team from my hospital did just that. What they found there changed their lives and their perspectives forever.
I applaud the noble efforts of all those who've stepped forward at great personal risk to save lives and offer critical aid under incredibly austere conditions. They are indeed real-life heroes. But there's a lot to be considered before self-deploying and many other great ways to help those in need.
Although nurses typically place the needs of others above all else, you should realize that self-deployment into a disaster zone without the coordination, resources, and protection afforded by the American Red Cross, a Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT), or another organized relief effort is very risky business. Security may be inadequate or nonexistent. Shortages of food, shelter, supplies, and equipment complicate matters.
Then there's the issue of personal health. Endemic diseases such as malaria and even rabies endanger rescuers, especially those who haven't had time to get appropriate vaccines or start prophylactic medications. Rescuers with chronic illnesses may find their conditions worsening in the disaster environment. And even healthy people can be injured and become victims themselves.
So, what are the choices? First, as a nurse, consider it a professional responsibility to prepare yourself to respond appropriately to mass casualty events and other disasters in your own community. In this issue, you'll find detailed information about nursing roles and responsibilities in a disaster, including how to find appropriate education and training. (See "Mass Casualty Events: Are You Prepared?" on page 40.)
If you want to be a frontline disaster responder, look into joining the Red Cross, a DMAT, or an established relief agency. These organizations have members with the training and resources necessary for optimal safety and effectiveness. For those who can't deploy but still want to help, consider a support role, such as assisting in drives for supplies, clothing, and funding. A nurse practitioner I know did her part by volunteering time to cover the office practice of a physician who deployed to Haiti. Of course, donating money to legitimate aid organizations is also crucial.
There are many avenues available to help those in need. It takes a village.
Until next time-
Linda Laskowski-Jones, MS, RN, ACNS-BC, CCRN, CEN
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