The Winter Holiday Season in New York is intense for everyone. For nurses and other round-the-clock workers, we face additional stresses: we often work on these special days. In addition, staffing is at bare bones, and patients tend to be sicker and more depressed. And yet…there’s a special bond that exists between caregiver and patient — and among colleagues — when we work the holiday. It’s hard to explain. Perhaps it’s our capacity to share with others; or the way we connect to people, even when they are complete strangers.
So let’s stop for a moment and reflect upon the victims of hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding and fires that we’ve seen recently — people in the South and the Caribbean who have lost lives and homes. Even three months later, in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, many are homeless, lack medical care and supplies, have no electricity, no internet or cell reception, lack adequate food, potable water, and are newly unemployed. Not a holiday for these folks.
But just like so many of us did after Hurricane Irene upstate and Hurricane Sandy downstate, our nurses rose to the occasion and offered to help those in need. Back in 2012, as our newly elected board was transitioning into the organization, we recognized the need to coordinate aid in areas hard hit by Superstorm Sandy.
Volunteers saved lives in those early days and NYSNA nurses put in countless hours caring for vulnerable communities devastated by the effects of the storm. We helped launch the “Build Back Better” coalition to pressure the Bloomberg administration in NYC to provide for those who were suffering.
Groups of our nurses recently volunteered in the Philippines and Guatemala, and several were deployed to Texas and Florida after “the storm of the century” created untold havoc there. Then, even as recovery was barely implemented in these regions, unprecedented Category IV and V storms racked the Caribbean. NYSNA members seized the moment, gathering supplies and medicines. Several were deployed to affected areas with hospitals and with Federal and State agencies.
Climate change: we are at the eleventh hour…
Scientists have warned us that until we alter our behavior regarding the use of fossil fuels, our planet will continue to heat up and these extreme weather events — monster hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, floods and wildfires — such as the deadly one that destroyed people, homes and forests only last month in California — will only get worse. NYSNA members are in the forefront of the Climate Movement, making connections between these disasters and climate change.
The New York recovery network!
Recognizing this reality — and aware that many of our members feel compelled to help those in need — NYSNA initiated the establishment of an organization that recruits volunteers and coordinates disaster aid. We’ve created a structure called the New York Recovery Network (NYRN), an organization that is actually independent of NYSNA, so that we can recruit all volunteers willing to provide medical and emotional support to victims of extreme weather events and others in desperate need of our services.
When NYSNA put out the call for folks to go on medical missions, we were flooded with responses. We currently have a list of over 400 volunteers (!) — and this number is rising. It is awe-inspiring to see how many of our members — and others — are willing to volunteer their time, energy and skills to the many needy people — folks they don’t even know in lands that they may never have seen.
We’ve provided care to thousands, raised funds and sent supplies to affected areas. Our first two missions in Puerto Rico prepared us for our next one: we have already assembled a team to go to the Virgin Islands in January and understand that the needs of folks will be ongoing. Even here in our own state, there are many with unmet medical needs. We hope to expand to embrace our local communities as well.
What have we learned? Our experiences have been life-changing, not just for the victims, but for the caregivers. We are truly practicing Nursing: touching, listening to, sharing and talking to patients and families. We make a difference in their lives, and they make a difference in ours.
Learn about our medical missions and volunteer here. And post this link www.paypal.me/NYRN to family and friends (and yourself!) to help finance our missions — air-fare, supplies, food and lodging cost money!
Nysna is preparing a mission to the Virgin Islands to address the destruction and meet medical need on these islands.