In recent years, American Red Cross nurses have been hindered during disasters by protocols that severely limited their duties as first responders and providers of first aid, resulting in many patients being sent elsewhere for care. Recently the organization rolled out a disaster-response protocol that returns nurses to the forefront of care. Now, Red Cross disaster nurses can provide care to people in temporary shelters—many of whom arrive with disaster-related or chronic illnesses, disabilities, and injuries—as well as administer some types of treatment on-site, such as wound care and immunizations. "Patients will receive the care they need at the shelter. This prevents an additional surge on an already stressed health care system during a disaster," explained Sharon Stanley, chief nurse at the American Red Cross in Washington, DC.
The approval of the new model by the Red Cross in November 2010 coincided with the release of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, which calls for nurses to practice to the full extent of their education and training, attain higher levels of education, and become full partners with physicians in redesigning health care. Buoyed by the successful rollout of the nurse-led disaster model and the release of the IOM report, the National Nursing Committee (NNC) of the Red Cross decided to further develop the Red Cross's strategies for all of its nurses. The result was The Future of American Red Cross Nursing: A Blueprint for Action (available at http://rdcrss.org/qLMgFC), which was released in September.
"Our goal is to revitalize nursing services throughout the Red Cross," said Stanley. The Blueprint for Action outlines expanded practice duties for nurses within the other sectors of the Red Cross—Disaster Preparedness, Health and Safety, Biomedical Services, and Service to the Armed Forces. The expertise of nurses is needed to improve these programs, according to Stanley. "Nurses need to be at the table to help formulate plans and expand the scope of practice."
The input of nurses at the national level should help a fragmented and unaffordable health care system meet the demands of an increasingly older and sicker population. "'Nurse led' doesn't mean that we don't need health partners; the beauty of an interdisciplinary Red Cross team is that care blends together," said Stanley. In general population shelters, she explained, "nurses will still render nursing care within the scope of their practice, in partnership with other team members." For example, they will help evacuees who have chronic conditions with daily lifestyle activities, such as testing blood and taking medications. When acute and emergent situations arise, nurses will partner with physicians to ensure the best care.
"Nurses have been given a fantastic opportunity to take action and draw in partners," Stanley said. "This isn't just about nursing, it's about health care in general and in our communities."—Carol Potera