Local nurses take a different kind of vacation

Public health nurses join a statewide effort to help victims in hurricane-ravaged Florida

By Jennifer Lassiter
star staff

  A planned vacation to the Sunshine State turns into a 12-hour, 7-day work week for Donna Burleson, a public health nurse at the Carter County Health Department.
  Burleson along with three other nurses in the region joined with nurses statewide to spend a week in hurricane-ravaged Florida to help staff and special needs shelters.
  "I actually had plans to leave for vacation in Destin, Fla., but canceled because of the bad weather," said Burleson.
  The Florida Department of Health reached out to the public health agencies in nearby states to request assistance with manning the shelters, which provide refuge for people who need help with a health or medical condition during a disaster.
  Burleson received a call from the regional health office during the Labor Day weekend asking her to assist with recruiting as many people as she could to join the relief effort in Florida.
  "A lot of people were out of town, because of the holiday, so I agreed to go," she said.
  Burleson and the regional nursing supervisor at Northeast Regional Health Office, Charlene Jesse, Emergency Response Coordinator for the Northeast Regional Health Office, Shirley Hughes, and Hawkins County Nursing Supervisor Kathy Snadidge loaded up in a C-130 in Nashville on Sept. 7 on a non-stop flight to the west coast of Florida.
  "We actually had to sit in cargo-net," said Burleson. "I was the only nurse with prior military experience. I was in the National Guard and helped during the Roan Mountain flood in 1998."
  When the group of RNs arrived in Florida, they were split into small groups of about four or five. Some stayed to worked with the Red Cross while others worked at shelters. Some even walked door to door asking people if they needed help.
  Since all public health nurses have Red Cross training, they are easily called on in times of disaster, Burleson said. They were asked to find out if victims' homes were livable; if they had electricity, and if they could go back to their homes. They also checked to see if they needed water or nursing assistance.
  "It was a learning experience. I'd do it again in a heart beat," said Burleson.