Nurses Volunteer Time in Wake of Hurricane Harvey

October 10, 2017
Sometimes the best way to cope with a large-scale disaster is to roll up your sleeves and get to work. This was the mind set that inspired five Lawrence General nurses to volunteer their time after Hurricane Harvey swept through southern Texas in late-August leaving a path of destruction and significant flooding in its wake.
"An event like Hurricane Harvey can leave you feeling sad, depressed, and helpless,” says Maryellen Viens, RN, one of the Lawrence General volunteers. “Getting involved is good therapy.”
Maryellen was joined in Texas by her Lawrence General colleagues Brianna Beecher, RN, Christie Mastriano, RN, Sara Ardila, RN, and Laura Ardila, RN. Together, they were all part of a larger delegation of 28 volunteer nurses assembled on short notice by the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association and the New England district office of the Organization of Nurse Leaders. The team spent five days in early September working at Bay Area Regional Medical Center in Webster, Texas, just outside Houston.
By all accounts, the nurse volunteers made good use of their time while in Texas. “There was no downtime whatsoever, and since I was on the night shift, very little sleep,” says Maryellen. In addition to working long hours in the hospital, the group also helped with demolition on flood-damaged homes in a nearby neighborhood and also volunteered at the NRG Center in downtown Houston, which had been transformed into a shelter for the displaced.
“By the time we arrived it was two weeks after the hurricane, and most of the flood waters had receded,” says Brianna. “People were in the process of doing demolition on their homes and pulling out anything that was water-damaged so the Federal Emergency Management Agency could do an assessment.” The streets, she says, were piled high with mattresses, furniture, kitchen appliances, and construction debris. 
In the hospital, which had by then returned to a more normal pace after the initial crisis, the volunteers provided relief to the staff nurses so they could tend to their own families and damaged homes. “The first day was a baptism by fire,” laughs Maryellen, who typically works in the post-anesthesia care unit, but found herself stationed on a med/surg floor. “But, by the second night, I felt right at home.”
Both hospital staff and patients were very appreciative of their assistance. “Everyone was great,” says Brianna. “I got a lot of hugs and ‘thank yous’ from patients. People were touched that we came down to help.”
“We went down there to work and help others, but I feel like I got more out of the experience than I gave,” says Maryellen. “It was a fantastic group of people and we all got along amazingly well.”