A guest post by Liza Jervis, RN, CCHP-RN, Health Service Administrator, Hudson County Department of Corrections, Kearny, NJ
When an area is hit with a natural disaster, the media spotlights the heroic efforts of various nurse groups. Often missed are the efforts of nurses who care for their patients behind bars. Here is my story of the heroic and equally-extraordinary actions of the correctional nurses I work with.
On October 29, 2012, New Jersey was hit with a Category One Hurricane – Sandy. During the storm, the Hudson County Correctional Center experienced a fierce and sweeping tidal surge. A wave of water struck the facility directly, inundating the parking lot before flowing into the jail. As water surged into the building, many inmates began to panic, initiating medical emergency responses. Water spilling into elevator banks caused an outbreak of electrical fires. With no warning and little time to react, the nurses on duty went into action, rolling up their shirtsleeves (and their pant legs). Wading through knee deep water, without phone service and virtually no power (emergency generator only), knowing the cars they left in the parking lot had been destroyed, while not knowing how their families were faring – these HEROES did what they do best. They cared for their patients using any means possible, responding to every emergency and making sure no patient went without their medication that night.
Healthcare at our facility operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We have a population of 1,850 inmates under our care and supervision, in addition to maintaining responsibility for the well-being of all officers and civilian staff during times of crisis. In addition, we manage a 15-bed infirmary that functions much like a hospital’s medical/surgery unit, although we do not deliver acute care. We also respond to medical codes that involve carrying emergency bags and oxygen, pulling stretchers to transport patients to the clinic for further evaluation and treatment.
In the hurricane’s aftermath, nurses continued care delivery while making needed adjustments – having to provide care on generator power only, without elevators, without computers to track inmates’ movements, and only intermittent phone service. Still – each emergency call has been answered and needed medication and treatments are provided daily.
As the Health Service Administrator of the Hudson County Correctional Center and as a nurse who has been involved in corrections for many years, I take great pride in the exceptional job these nurses did during a time of crisis. The nature of correctional nursing keeps these practitioners on their toes and has them occupying many roles: ER nurse, primary care nurse, medical/surgical nurse, psychiatric nurse, infection control nurse and – in times of great need, such as Hurrican Sandy – HERO.
Do you have a Hero Story to tell from your correctional nursing experiences during a disaster? Share your information in the comments section of this post or send an email about your story to email@example.com and we will feature your experiences in an upcoming post.
Catherine Knox says
What a gripping experience and such a touching response by the nurses. They have reason to be proud of their professionalism. It is an experience that will be with them for ever. I hope that their lives are beginning to return to normal. Thank you for sharing the story.
kimberly Cay says
Like so many on the east coast, your essay seems to point out a lack of planning on the part of the facility staff. The trauma inflicted on inmates unable to escape water coming into their cells was cruel.
Lorry Schoenly says
It is unfortunate that you have this perspective, Kimberly. These nurses were not in a position to make evacuation decisions, but they were in a position to help their patients, and they did, with courage and bravery. It is easy to look back on a situation with the knowledge available after the fact and make judgement about what people do in the face of a decision with partial information.
Beth Battinelli, PhD says
Thank you for sharing this, Liza! It’s heart warming to read how, in spite of the threat to their own safety, the nurses carried on with exceptional professionalism.
Jamie Salcedo says
As a Jersey girl from Hudson County, I applaud Liza and her help. I can only imagine how much of a test to your healthcare training was for you.