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Saint John’s Provides Relief for Relief Workers

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

September 20 -- Although the worst images of Hurricane Katrina are starting to fade from the news, the need for help in the devastated Gulf Coast is as great as ever, perhaps even greater as relief workers reach the limit of their endurance.

As part of a second wave of charity pouring into the afflicted region, Saint John’s Health Center is sending a team of nurses to Pearl River County Hospital in Poplarville, Mississippi.

The county hospital, located just 40 miles from the southern coast, took in patients from hospitals that were knocked out of commission by the storm and is suffering from a “dire shortage of nurses” according to a statement by Saint John’s officials.

“While the initial need was for acute patient care and rescue efforts, the need now is for continued financial support and caregivers to help those with chronic illnesses and to replace staff who need relief,” said Mary Ellen Blakley, Vice President of Patient Care Services.

“Hospitals and nursing homes have been destroyed, and outlying areas are overwhelmed with evacuees,” Blakley said. “Others who responded immediately will need relief and to be replaced by new caregivers.”

The team, the first in a series organized by St. John’s parent company Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health Systems (SCLHS), includes Fiorella Peterson, R.N. from Westchester; Paula McCloy, R.N. from El Segundo, and Ann Debello, R.N. and Margaret Ecker, both Los Angeles residents.

Peterson works in the ambulatory medicine unit, McCloy is Saint John’s risk manager with experience working in clinical care and medical-surgical units, Debello is a critical care nurse and Ecker is the director of nursing education and a pediatric nurse.

St. John’s will take turns with other affiliated hospitals as they send rotating “rapid response” teams of four nurses for one week at a time and larger teams of 25 nurses for longer stays.

“Because we have been thorough in our planning, we have a process in place to provide a sustained level of volunteers,” Blakley said.

The larger teams are being built in partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services and will represent a variety of disciplines including nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, and mental health professionals.

In addition to sending volunteers, Saint John’s and SCLHS are matching employee contributions up to $100,000. SCLHS will direct the money to Catholic Charities USA and American Red Cross to be shared equally. Employees can also donate their paid time off.

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