1. Kimble, Darcel G.

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With an outpouring of compassion and concern, Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA) members from across the nation answered the call for help in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Within days, many HPNA members left the comfort of their own homes to attend to the countless victims who were sick or injured and in desperate need of care. Their assistance was welcomed by exhausted local nurses, many whose own lives had been ravaged by the fury of the storm.


Approximately 1.3 million people lived in New Orleans, LA, and its suburbs. More than 300,000 of them evacuated to Baton Rouge with little more than the clothes on their backs. The region's infrastructure and human resources were stretched beyond belief. Help was needed, and it was needed fast.


Compelled by Compassion

Bonnie Morgan, RN, president-elect of the National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Nurses, was among the earliest relief workers, responding to a desperate appeal from Kathryn Grigsby, executive director of Hospice of Baton Rouge. Kathryn was one of the lead volunteer coordinators in the region, soliciting support from around the nation, and hosted many of the helpers in her home.


When Bonnie arrived, she provided triage services, first at a makeshift hospital established in a building which 10 years ago housed a K-Mart store. When that facility was closed because of unsanitary conditions, the patients and staff transferred to a medical operation established on the campus of Louisiana State University in the Pete Maravich Center and the Field House. The open land between the two buildings served as a helicopter landing pad where patients arrived or were airlifted out with the frequency and precision one might see at a commercial airport.


Later, Bonnie moved to yet another center, where she conducted medical screenings on local police and fireman fatigued emotionally and physically by the weight of their work.


"I know that I am not the same person I was," said Bonnie, who works at a hospice in Phoenix, AZ. "As a nurse who has cared for the terminally ill for the past 15 years, I've seen lots of pain and suffering and grief, but I've never experienced it so intensely in such a short period of time. I never want to get so complacent in my nice little life that I'm not moved by the suffering of others."


In Bonnie's eyes, the daunting scale of the disaster is overshadowed only by the heartfelt respect for humanity exhibited by fellow volunteers and emergency responders.


She tells the story of how HPNA member Corrine Anderson, an advanced practice nurse and advanced practice palliative caregiver, arranged for a family traveling from Mississippi to California to stop at different churches along the way for help. "One of the churches was my church in Gilbert, AZ," said Bonnie.


Corrine has a reputation for being dedicated to the advancement of palliative and hospice care. She has been an active volunteer for HPNA and National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Nurses for many years. Bonnie and Corrine first met while attending a conference in Chicago in 1997 and were reunited by this crisis and their shared concerns. "The stories of human compassion and connections are endless," she said.


Bonnie shared another of those connections with HPNA board member, Darrell Owens, PhD, APRN, CNS, from Seattle, Wash. Bonnie and Darrell know each other through their work with HPNA, and both were compelled by the eyewitness accounts of friends to respond almost immediately to the call for help-although different agencies sent conflicting reports about whether help was needed.


Darrell also worked at the hospital established at the Louisiana State University field house, but on different shifts than Bonnie. He was amazed at what he witnessed. "Many patients were being diagnosed for the first time with such illnesses as chronic diabetes and hypertension," he said. "Can you imagine having just lost everything, and now you're faced with knowing you have a potentially life-threatening illness without the benefit of insurance, access to proper healthcare, or a full understanding of your disease?"


Darrell believes that this situation has all the earmarks of a public healthcare crisis that needs to be addressed in recovery efforts. "We have an opportunity to help alleviate the needless suffering of thousands, and we cannot forget this fact once the initial wave of support and sympathy subsides."


The Psychology of Suffering

Martha Henderson, MSN, MDiv, DMin, agrees, but with neighboring Louisiana still looking like a war-torn state and with more than a quarter of a million evacuees moving through Texas alone, how could she disagree?


Guided by faith and experience, Martha, a geriatric nurse practitioner who lives in Chapel Hill, NC, volunteered with Red Cross in Houston, TX. For 17 days, this semiretired nursing veteran of 37 years worked at the Reliant Center where, according to Red Cross, 11,000 evacuees lived in crowded conditions and emotional distress. Martha used her skills as an ordained minister and a psychiatric nurse to help ease the despair that gripped the people who needed help and those involved in helping.


More than 160 miles away in Austin, TX, Carolyn Curry de Cordova, RN, CHPN, a master's degree- prepared psychologist, was volunteering at the Austin Convention Center where 5000 evacuees were sheltered. Carolyn, an HPNA member who lives in Austin, worked 4 days taking breaks only at night to sleep.


She served as the nurse coordinator for the assisted living section of the convention center that had been divided by treatment areas and specialties. "Our self-identified task was to comb the population in search of evacuees with special needs[horizontal ellipsis]dementia, significant health issues, mental illness," she said. Carolyn recalled that, by the time they started, the evacuees had been at the center for a week.


Because of the extremely long lines and hours of waiting, many of the assisted living clients were not physically or mentally prepared to sift through the mounds of FEMA and Red Cross paperwork needed to get relief services.


"With a very dedicated team of volunteers, we identified the special needs group and assigned them a Red Cross companion to[horizontal ellipsis]make sure they got their meds and any additional medical attention needed," she explained. Carolyn added that the companions guided their clients though the social support maze, from FEMA to Red Cross to food supplies to housing assistance.


"The numb, stunned, exhausted crowd needed palliative care of the mind, body, and soul," said Carolyn.


A Long Strange Trip

Fully understanding the impact of stress, grief, pain, and fear, registered nurses and HPNA members Judy Voss, CHPN, and Cheryl Laubner, CHPN, departed the Daytona Beach, Fla, area on September 6, headed for Mobile, AL. They were responding to an HPNA message alerting members to the need for help. Acting on their own-and with the help of local radio station, WAPN-they solicited the community for support. Within 36 hours, they had collected 500 survival gift bags for those affected by the storm.


Before arriving at their destination, they were diverted by volunteer coordinators to Pascagoula, MS, home of the ChevronTexaco Oil refinery which had ceased operations because of the storm. The two distributed their gift bags at the Singing River Hospital. The hospital, which had sustained minimal damage, continued to operate during the hurricane with the help of generators for power. The surrounding area appeared to have suffered less damage than did areas closer to the shore and to the west. Still, hospital staff reported windows having been broken during the storm. They had to scramble to move patients to other rooms.


Because the hospital was fully staffed, Cheryl and Judy searched for other ways and places to help. They volunteered at the town's Eastlawn United Methodist Church, which just a few days earlier was filled with mud and debris. Here, they worked for 2 days, sorting clothing donations and helping to organize a huge distribution center.


"Despite contaminated water, no electricity, sleeping on the floor, and working near nonstop for 2 days, I would not exchange 1 minute of my time in this beautiful community," said Judy.


Destination Detroit

While so many nurses provided much-needed help, more than a few desperately needed tools to reconstruct their own shattered lives.


"It's hard to even say it, but I have lost my home, job, and every material good to the Hurricane Katrina levee break," wrote Harlee Kutzen, an HIV palliative care clinical nurse specialist.


Harlee, who holds a master's degree and is an APRN, sent an e-mail to the HPNA Advanced Practice Nurses Special Interest Group noting, "Consequently, I have just recently relocated to the Detroit area where we have family and friends."


Almost instantly, Harlee received responses to her request for job leads and professional contacts. Advanced Practice Nurse Special Interest Group members generously shared messages of hope and offers of help.


These stories from nurse volunteers present a snapshot of a crisis whose end is not in full focus. Countless other HPNA members are volunteering every day, and still more are making donations to the Louisiana/Mississippi Hospice and Palliative Care Organization through the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Foundation.


As of this writing, nearly US$15,500 had been collected and issued to support caregivers in that area. Your help is needed. For information-whether it is making a contribution through Hospice and Palliative Nurses Foundation, learning where you can volunteer, or providing resources for displaced hospice and palliative care nurses-please contact HPNA at 412.787.9301 or write to


Contributed by


Darcel G. Kimble


Director of Marketing and Public


Relations for the Hospice and


Palliative Nurses Association.