ANNAPOLIS- Jeanette Armor isn’t quite sure what she’ll find when she reaches the Gulf Coast area ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. But she’s willing to endure the heat, filth and risk of disease to help the storm’s victims.
Armor, a pediatric emergency room nurse at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore, is one of about 1,000 Maryland health care professionals who have volunteered to spend a minimum of two weeks in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Agencies across the state are uniting to provide much-needed staffers to the devastated states.
The Maryland Hospital Association plans to deploy physicians, nurses and other health technicians to the disaster area. They will help run the 40 emergency medical centers — each with 250 beds — set up by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Medical workers from around the country have been called upon to run the shelters, which will each require 100 workers.
“I can’t sit and watch these people on TV without trying to help,” said Armor, 27, who is a trained disaster nurse and hopes to use her vacation time to head south. “I expect to be exposed to the worst conditions . . . that’s what I was trained to do.”
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is working with agencies across the state to gather other medical staffers, such as public health professionals, to assist struggling Gulf Coast hospitals. By Friday afternoon, more than 300 doctors, nurses and mental health professionals had signed up through the Maryland Health Professionals Volunteer Corp., according to Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services Michelle Gourdine. The department established the volunteer corp. after Sept. 11 to help with national disaster relief.
The volunteers are in addition to the 25 nurses and 23 doctors dispatched to the Gulf Area Thursday, and two state traveling clinics known as “Wellmobiles” expected to leave Tuesday.
“Everything is lined up and ready to go,” Gordine said. “We’re just waiting for the word” from the federal government.
The hospital association is compiling rosters of volunteers to staff the mini-hospitals, but their departure date is still unknown, said assistant vice president of administration Frank Monius. Volunteers must have up-to-date immunization shots before they can be exposed to area’s “poor living conditions.”
“You can’t just pick 100 people and put them on a plane,” he said. “This is going to be a tough assignment.”
The gasoline shortage is heightening the need for medical assistance in the areas hardest hit by the storm. In Mississippi, for example, doctors and nurses don’t have enough gas to get to work. Jim Almas, director of pathology at St. Dominic-Jackson Memorial Hospital in Jackson, Miss., said he would drive the 100 miles to Louisiana to assist in the relief efforts if gas was available.
“We have blood here, we have medical supplies and equipment to run machines, but there’s no way to get there,” he said. “Essential fundamentals are not getting met here.”
At The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, about 150 physicians and nurses have volunteered to head south. Anne Arundel Medical Center and Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury have dozens of staffers standing by.
Hopkins’ Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response is trying to assemble teams of professionals who have experience working together to improve efficiency in the shelters, according to Jim Schulen, the office’s executive director. In subsequent weeks, he hopes to send technicians who are able to repair equipment as well as administrators and safety experts. “Everyone is waiting for the opportunity to help,” he said. “We’re more than happy to put together a team.”