Tamie Cline of Hermiston takes off Saturday to the United States Virgin Islands. Not for any vacation, but a medical relief mission.
Cline is a surgical nurse at Good Shepherd Medical Center, Hermiston, and one of 22 nurses nationwide going to help school children as the United States territory recovers from the devastation that back-to-back category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria delivered in September.
The massive storms, she said, wiped out classrooms, school gyms and cafeterias. The government consolidated thousands of students onto the most viable campuses, she said, and school nurses there are overwhelmed.
“Those kids are not having any screenings at all,” Cline said.
The Clinton Global Initiative identified the U.S. Virgin Islands, home to almost 103,000 citizens, as a priority for recovery from the rage of the two storms. The American Federation of Teachers put together a plan to address the student health screenings, which former President Bill Clinton announced Tuesday.
The federation is the second largest nurses union in the nation and an affiliate of the Oregon Nurses Association. Federation spokesperson Andrew Feldman said the U.S. Virgin Islands are “still a mess” with widespread ruin in once-vibrant communities. Some areas, he stated, resemble the aftermath Hurricane Maria left in Puerto Rico.
The federation in October sent 40 nurses there. Feldman said they helped in an array of medical situations, from people suffering mental health issues to citizens stuck in homes and coping with diabetes or high blood pressure.
“They were there for three weeks and really had a huge impact,” he said.
This time the federation will land 10 nurses on the island of St. Croix to assess the general health of 5,000 children, while Cline and 11 more nurses go to the island of St. Thomas to provide check-ups on 7,000 children. A nurse from Bend and another from Medford are making the journey. The group returns home next Saturday, giving them five days to complete the work.
“Our goal is we’re going to get every child seen,” Cline said. “I’d hate to be that nurse that misses the one kid.”
The Oregon Nurses Association in its March 9 newsletter told its members the American Federation of Teachers was looking for volunteers for the effort. Cline, a nurse of 19 years with 18 at the hospital, said she has never done a medical mission. She and her husband, Bill, a cattle rancher, have three grown children, none at home. Helping children is core to who she is, Cline said, so she asked her husband what he thought of her going.
“He said I just have to do it,” she recalled.
In addition to the student screenings, the nurses will check the schools for health risks, such as asbestos exposure or the spread of dangerous mold.
“These schools have been open all this time, and no one knows the condition of these schools,” Feldman said.
“We’re just kind of the first eyes on the ground,” Cline said, and what they report helps determine future actions.
The federation also asked nurses to bring hospital supplies. Nick Bejarano, Good Shepherd communications director, helped Cline load up a box of gloves, dressings, ice packs and more.
“We love to support this kind of initiative,” Bejarano said. “It’s a selfless act to help others in need.”
Cline said she wishes she could bring more, but the flights have weight and size restrictions, particularly for the “hopper planes” they will take between islands.
Cline was on a planning phone call Thursday night. She said they were told not to bring coats or sweatshirts because temperatures at the scene are plenty warm, and don’t plan on having air conditioning in their resort rooms.
Yes, she said, they are in a resort, but one that remains closed.
Comfortable shoes are another must because they will be on their feet for long stretches. Cline said nurses tend to have that covered.
U.S. territories in the Caribbean have far to go in their recovery from last year’s hurricanes. Sections of Puerto Rico still lack power, and major factories there remain offline and unable to produce drugs, fluids, and other medical resources for hospitals around the globe. Cline said Good Shepherd, like other hospitals, is keeping close watch as those supplies dwindle.
Researchers at the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project predict this Atlantic hurricane season will be a little above average with 14 storms, and seven will become major hurricanes. The season is less than eight weeks away and lasts until Nov. 30.
Cline is on call Friday night to Saturday morning. She said she is hoping the hospital has a quiet night before her husband drives her Saturday to Portland to catch the first of several flights. Getting to the U.S. Virgin Islands from the West Coast, she said, takes 24 hours.
Come Monday, the work begins.