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Volunteer Nurses Return from Hurricane-Ravaged Florida with Stories of Survivors


It has been all hands-on deck in parts of Southwest Florida ever since Hurricane Ian made landfall on the Gulf Coast in late September. Multiple healthcare facilities lost power and thousands of homes were destroyed.

National Nurses United, the country’s largest nursing union, responded by sending four volunteer nurses to the area most affected by the storm as part of its Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN). The program provides disaster-relief assistance to communities in need all over the world in partnership with International Medical Corps.

The nurses arrived in Englewood, FL on Oct. 3, just five days after the storm touched down. The organization says the nurses hit the ground running as soon as they landed. They deployed a mobile medical unit and went door-to-door to let people know that healthcare services were available nearby.

One of the nurses who volunteered was Venessa Soldo-Jones, an RN in the emergency department at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, MN. 

“When we arrived in Port Charlotte, there was no power, no water,” she said. “People needed electricity to run their oxygen or to refrigerate their insulin. People also just needed to talk. There was a need for mental health services.”

They set up the mobile medical unit in the parking lot of a shelter for displaced people.

“We saw people who were unable to manage chronic illnesses like diabetes and hypertension,” said Soldo-Jones. This was her sixth time being deployed with the RNRN disaster relief program. She previously worked in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, in Florida after Hurricane Michael, and on Grand Bahama Island after Hurricane Dorian.

“People also showed up with Covid-like symptoms or respiratory illness due to mold in their homes. People needed wound care for injuries that they sustained either during the storm or afterward. We were able to give them tetanus shots provided by the state department of health.”

Tammi Bachecki, a trauma ICU nurse at Kaiser Vacaville Medical Center in Vacaville, CA, said they did more than provide healthcare. They helped the community get back on its feet.

“We did wellness checks as we went door-to-door and if someone needed a generator, we got them a generator,” Bachecki said. “If people needed prescriptions filled, we told them to come to the mobile clinic, where doctors could prescribe medications.”

The team also identified local pharmacies that were still open, so people could get their prescriptions filled. The state is home to the country’s largest elderly population, and many residents needed help accessing these services after the hurricane.

“At the clinic, we also gave people flu shots,” said Bachecki. “We also gave people bottled water and tarps to help cover holes in their roof. It was amazing to see the community come together to help each other. People took in neighbors and were sharing resources.”

The RNRN nurses weren’t the only ones on the ground in Englewood providing emergency care.

MediSys Health Network, a health network in Queens, NYC, recently deployed a team of six healthcare professionals to the same area. They arrived on Oct. 16 and will return on the 31st. The team includes two nurses, an assistant nursing director, and three doctors.

The MediSys providers are operating a mobile medical unit next to the American Red Cross shelter, which is currently housing about 100 people. They are providing emergency care to residents, as four of the area’s six hospitals are closed, according to Mark Marino, assistant vice president of emergency management at MediSys Health Network.

“These mobile units serve a purpose to replace the emergency room. We also find that in these types of circumstances, when all of your possessions are wiped out, medications are gone, pharmacies are closed and doctors’ offices aren’t opened yet, this is the kind of care we anticipate the team will also be providing,” Marino said.

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