Written by Joellen Barak
NEW YORK, NY, January 10, 2013 – Since the time of Clara Barton, American Red Cross nurses have been iconic in images on the battlefield, helping the wounded, or vaccinating children in faraway places. But today’s Red Cross nurse, especially a disaster nurse, fills many more roles.
Over two months after Superstorm Sandy, teams of Red Cross nurses are still seeing and talking to survivors every day. Jeanne Spears is the chief disaster health services nurse for the Sandy response. Most of the people Spears and her teams see are now housed in hotels and other transitional housing. Spears says that the 2-4 home-visit appointments and 20-25 phone calls her team takes per day run the gamut of disaster victim needs.
“At this time, we’re not replacing lost medicines,” Spears says, “but we are reassessing needs that were presented earlier, including medicines and durable medical equipment.” For example, if a someone needed a walker after the storm, nurses check in to see if that need still exists, and to assess if there are other health needs that should be addressed.
Spears and her team work closely with Red Cross caseworkers and the casework call center. She commends the caseworkers, “They do a good job of identifying needs that we can help with.”
Some Sandy survivors may still be trying to replace medical equipment like hearing aids, glasses or wheelchairs. Others may simply need education about their medical conditions. A diabetic, for example, may not know that there are forms of insulin that do not require refrigeration. Another person may need help dealing with an insurance company over copayments for replacement drugs.
One person her team worked with had very mild memory impairment, and was rejected from the TSA housing program because she forgot to file some crucial forms. A Red Cross nurse and a caseworker helped her through the complex process and were able to enroll the client in the program. Spears feels that one of her team’s jobs is to catch the people who might otherwise fall through the cracks, and help folks successfully navigate the systems that are in place.
Most of the health services team’s case referrals come from client casework or the call center, but some may simply appear out of nowhere. Spears tells of one man who showed up at the headquarters building clutching a note from his doctor. The note said that the man should report to a hospital immediately to be admitted. The man didn’t want to go because he was homeless and concerned about getting there, paying for treatment, and needing aftercare. The Red Cross nurses were able to assess him, give him some options for transportation and social work help, and provide emotional support to a frightened man.
In a disaster situation, Spears says, “Nurses do a lot more than nursing. It’s hard to define what we do, but we do it well.”