US nurses keep up ‘Yolanda’ relief work in Roxas City
OAKLAND, Calif. – Michelle Vo, a Filipino American registered nurse who’s married to a Vietnamese, immediately took a leave from Kaiser hospital in Fremont where she works and was with her union’s advance team in the Visayas, just seven days after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” made its devastating landfall.
“We decided not to scramble for Tacloban where most relief workers were going but chose Roxas City for ongoing relief and rehabilitation work,” Vo told an audience at a slide show presented by photo documentarian Rick Rocamora at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center in Chinatown on December 22.
Some people who lost homes and needed medical attention, Vo said, had to cross two or three rivers to get to their urgent care base camp.
“We made sure to bring our own supplies so we don’t have to be a burden on local resources. Also, our nurses get debriefed when they get back here to make sure they emerge OK from the traumatic experience,”she said.
Vo is just one of several hundred nurses who volunteer for National Nurses United’s (NNU) Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN). The network’s communication office released stories about their teams’ relief work experiences in the devastated areas.
“We’re here to stay,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, director of RNRN. As volunteers from NNU’s third delegation started for home, a fresh deployment, Team Four arrived. The next team is already in formation, heading out for the Philippines in early January 2014.
Team three, Castillo explained, spent their days providing hands-on care on storm-ravaged Panay island, mostly in the City Health Office clinic in Roxas City, but also in mobile medical clinics in Estancia, in neighborhoods where the storm devastation was made even worse by a virulent oil spill.
To date, RNRN volunteers have cared for more than 1,400 patients in Roxas, giving wound care, shots, treating respiratory ailments and providing critical stress debriefing for those who have lost their homes, their belongings and their livelihoods.
“Our third team also assessed future possible deployment sites in Panay, Negros and Cebu as we continue our commitment, in the RNRN tradition, of deploying regular, rotating teams of RNs over an extended time frame to meet the long term needs,” Castillo said.
Gandessa Orteza, RN, of Burtonsville, Maryland, said, “Most common are upper respiratory infections–80 percent of the people we see complain of cough and cold for an unusual amount of days.”
“They all have had issues ranging from a child with swollen foot with purulent discharge, to another patient, an elderly man, who was in hypertensive crisis, our intervention helped to save his life. One of the nurses caught that the heart rate of a baby was around 60 so she immediately brought the patient to the doctor. He said that if we hadn’t caught it, an hour later the baby would have died.”
Oil spill aggravation
While in Estancia, the nurses also assisted with the distribution of relief goods to impacted neighborhoods. They are seeing hundreds of patients, mostly children suffering from the debilitating effects of the oil spill and other primary care conditions, including post-traumatic stress.
RNRN representatives also joined a press conference in Estancia with Global Nurses United partners, the Alliance of Healthcare Workers (AHW) and other community groups, which was called to draw attention to the environmental devastation and health hazards wrought by the oil spill.
“We were able to check on the oil spill (much of it from a barge of the National Power Corporation) that slammed into the shore during the typhoon. It hit two houses, which killed a mother and a baby right away,” said Girlie Garnada, RN, of Port Richie, Florida.
“We were also able to distribute relief goods, and work with the Alliance of Healthcare Workers and another relief agency to distribute goods to the people. I even went in the compound of the National Power Company and asked how far the oil spill is, the oil is beyond the spill area, it is all over,” Garnada added.
“As nurses, we advocate for our patients,” said Jane Sandoval, RNRN volunteer from San Francisco. “This is not confined to one country. Climate change and global warming has brought this misfortune to the Philippines. This affects us globally. From hurricane Katrina in the United States to typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines.”
“The public health concerns for oil spills are many- asthma, heart disease, lung disease and cancer, shown through studies, are all leading to premature death,” noted Ashley Forsberg, RNRN volunteer from Lansing, Michigan. “These are the primary threats to humans and the oil spills further hinders a community’s economic livelihood and is devastating to your environment.”
“The disaster is on such a scale that when you think that over 12 million people are displaced from their homes right now. The casualties might have seemed small, but their livelihoods are in jeopardy. Fishermen who rely on the sea have lost their boats. Businesses have been destroyed. People are living hand to mouth,” said Forsberg.
Reason for being a nurse
“This is why I got into nursing. The people here are so under-served and have been since before the typhoon,” Betty Sparks, RN, of Norwood, Mass. “When the earthquake happened in Haiti, it was as if someone wanted us to know the people there needed help. Typhoon Yolanda has done the same thing. It has focused the world on people’s needs here that existed long before the typhoon. We have received heartfelt thanks wherever we go.”
“To have been part of the NNU’s volunteer project helping the victims of Typhoon Yolanda has been a true honor, an experience I would never trade for the world,” said Melanie Crisologo, RN, of Los Angeles.
“Seeing people rebuild their homes gives me the comfort of knowing they will be okay. During this journey I feel that I was part of healing over 1,000 souls. This to me is the beginning of my journey to healing the world,” Crisologo added.
(RNRN continues to invite public support for this vital project. Tax deductible donations may be made at the following site: http://www.sendanurse.org)
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