Public health nurses help evacuate seniorsAccording to the dictionary, a nurse is a person trained to care for the sick or infirm, especially in a hospital. In reality, there’s a lot more to being a nurse than the sterile white uniform and nurse’s cap that’s conjured up from that description. Nowadays, nurses are found in more places than just the hospital. They work in emergency rooms, school-based clinics, homeless shelters, nursing homes and in private homes.
By: Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press
According to the dictionary, a nurse is a person trained to care for the sick or infirm, especially in a hospital.
In reality, there’s a lot more to being a nurse than the sterile white uniform and nurse’s cap that’s conjured up from that description.
Nowadays, nurses are found in more places than just the hospital. They work in emergency rooms, school-based clinics, homeless shelters, nursing homes and in private homes.
And many nurses, at least those who work in public health offices, are trained for emergency preparedness and response – such as when a town is hit by a tornado or a flood.
At the end of March, a group of nine Douglas County Public Health (DCPH) nurses caravanned to the Fargo/Moorhead area to help with the flood response.
Three of them – Alyssa Petefish, Patty Marriott and Sue Kvasager – recently shared their story with the Echo Press.
These three nurses, along with thousands of nurses around the nation, are being honored during National Nurses Week, which is May 6 through May 13.
The theme for this year’s National Nurses Week is “Nurses: Building a Healthy America,” which suits the Douglas County Public Health nurses perfectly.
Back in March, DCPH director Sandy Tubbs sent out an e-mail to her employees asking for volunteers to go help during the flood. The request for volunteers came from the director of the Clay County Public Health offices.
Nine DCPH nurses met at 6 a.m. on March 26 and drove to the flooded area. When they left, they had no idea what they would be doing or what area they would be helping.
Fortunately, said Marriott, DCPH nurses are trained in emergency preparedness and response and were excited and “ready for anything.”
When they arrived at the Moorhead State University campus, the group was met by Cheryl Sapp from Clay County Public Health, the West Central Minnesota Regional Response coordinator.
Sapp gave the group its assignment – helping with the evacuation of residents at Eventide Nursing Home. Some of the residents were brought to nursing homes in Alexandria and Osakis, as well as many other facilities in west central Minnesota.
All together, there were close to 190 residents who needed to be evacuated.
Kvasager explained that the DCPH nurses were there to help get the residents where they needed to go and to also help keep the residents calm. Public health nurses rode on every bus that carried the residents to their designated temporary new home.
“The residents were real troopers,” said Petefish.
Marriott and Kvasager agreed, adding that many of the residents were in a “happy, confused state,” which was good.
Kvasager told the residents who were being sent to Alexandria that they were going to “the resort and vacation Capital of Minnesota.”
“I told them they wouldn’t be able to waterski, though!” added Kvasager.
Marriott said, “We were there to just reassure the residents that everything was going to be OK. Most of them thought they were going on a mini vacation.”
Most of the residents are now back at Eventide Nursing Home in Moorhead. However, Kvasager said she knew of one who ended up staying in Alexandria because she has family in Glenwood and could be closer to them.
After a long day of helping at Eventide, the DCPH nurses spent the night in dorm rooms at Moorhead State University.
The next day, they received their new assignment – helping evacuate people living in two different apartment/condo complexes.
The ladies were instructed by law enforcement officials that they were to do “knock and talks.” Marriott explained that they had to knock on the door of every apartment and make strong recommendations to those who answered that they needed to evacuate – now.
If people refused to leave, the nurses were instructed to tell them to find a permanent magic marker and write their names and social security numbers on the inside of their forearms so that if needed, they could be identified if something happened.
“Most of them left without incident,” the nurses said.
Because of the rising water, many of the tenants in the two buildings were evacuated via an air boat.
Marriott explained that the nurses used cell phones to communicate with each other. Some were inside the building with the tenants, helping them pack, while others were outside speaking with law enforcement officials and emergency response personnel, trying to figure out how to get the tenants out safely.
In one of the buildings, an elderly man, who was on oxygen, didn’t think there was any way he could get out. He was resolved to stay and let whatever happen, happen.
“It just broke my heart,” said Marriott. “We got him out safely.”
There was also an elderly woman who, once she realized how bad the situation was, starting crying and said to Marriott, “I just need a hug.”
“I told her I could definitely do that for her,” she said.
Most of the tenants in the two complexes were elderly, noted the nurses, who also said there were some with mental health issues.
Helping out during a time of crisis, such as the flood, is something the nurses are trained for, they said, but every situation is a learning experience.
All three of them said they learned a lot – as in what works and what doesn’t work in that type of situation. And although flooding more than likely won’t happen in Alexandria, they feel they are more prepared if some type of disastrous situation does occur.
Petefish, Marriott and Kvasager said their trip to Moorhead was “quite an experience” and one they will never forget.
They also all said they would do it again in a heartbeat.