The moment Coleen DeFlorimonte-Lucas, RN, MSN, CPNP, PC, heard about the need for healthcare volunteers on Inauguration Day, she called in and said, “I would love to be there.”
As a black nurse, she is proud of President-elect Barack Obama’s election to the top office in the land. As a 22-year resident of the Washington, D.C., area she wants the millions of expected visitors to her city to have an enjoyable visit. And as a nurse and a member of the Medical Reserve Corps, she wants, above all, to keep everyone safe.
“This is unprecedented,” says DeFlorimonte-Lucas, coordinator for the Woodson Adolescent Wellness Center, a school-based nursing clinic in Washington, D.C. “We’ve never had this kind of a celebration before.”
On Jan. 20, she will be part of a cadre of volunteer healthcare workers — nearly two-thirds of them nurses — patrolling the grounds and manning aid stations to give care to whomever may need it and be ready in case of an attack or other public health emergency.
“This is a labor of love,” says Dorothy Lowry, RN, MSN, medical planner for the Department of Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Administration of the Washington, D.C. Department of Health, who is coordinating the healthcare volunteers.
“They’re going to the inauguration, but instead of staying in a hotel and hanging out, they are contributing their skill set. I think that’s amazing.”
Nurses from all over the country called in offering their services for the inauguration, but most healthcare volunteers will come from the D.C. Medical Reserve Corp, Lowry says.
The D.C. health department will be working with the National Parks Service, Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense, the American Red Cross, and other national and state agencies to provide healthcare on the National Mall, along the route of the inaugural parade, and at various inaugural balls throughout the capital.
The health department will be solely responsible for healthcare along the parade route. The stations will consist of tents or vans with cots for patients. Each station will be staffed with a physician, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner; two nurses; and administrative support staff. Nurses also will be part of roving teams, patrolling the crowds in a designated area around each station and scanning for people who may need medical attention.
Aid stations will offer “pre-hospital” care, Lowry says, including rapid assessment, triage, and limited interventions, such as bandaging wounds and basic first aid. Healthcare providers will coordinate with fire and ambulance services to get those with major medical problems to a hospital. Many of the volunteer nurses have ED and critical care experience, Lowry says.
“Their big responsibility is taking the nursing process and applying it in a different way, in a different structure.”
For security reasons, Lowry can’t say exactly how many volunteer healthcare workers will be on duty. “Well over 400,” she offers.
Press reports have predicted between 1 million and 5 million people will attend the inauguration. Many believe attendance at Obama’s inauguration will far exceed the previous record of 1.2 million to 1.5 million estimated to have attended Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration in 1965.
With a crowd so large and with so many unknowns, healthcare workers must be prepared for anything from hypothermia to a disaster resulting in mass casualties.
“We need to be able to throw whatever we’ve got at whatever happens,” Lowry says. “If you plan for a specific thing, you’re going to be wrong 99% of the time.”
The capital is the site of many special events, and residents who work in different professions, from police officers to garbage collectors, are accustomed to dealing with large crowds.
DeFlorimonte-Lucas, who has worked during previous celebrations including the Fourth of July on the Mall, says most of the health needs she has treated have been minor.
“I think the most important thing,” she says, “is that we’re there in case we’re needed.”
Lowry also has experience working with crowds. She worked at the U.S. embassy in Kuwait for two years before taking her current job last November. In Kuwait, she coordinated healthcare for the crowds who came to see President George Bush and First Lady Laura Bush during their visits there. She also reviewed and rewrote the embassy’s plan for an influenza pandemic as part of her master’s degree in nursing practicum project, and has worked in disaster planning.
All inauguration healthcare volunteers must attend training sessions that include an overview of the event and demonstrations of how operations take place in the aid stations. Training also helps volunteers understand security needs and hazards, how things might move from a normal to a “threat state,” and what to do in a mass casualty situation, which everyone hopes won’t happen but for which they must be prepared, Lowry says.
The healthcare team will be setting up aid stations according to the number of inaugural events, which so far is in flux. At this point, people are asking questions, doing cross-checks, making sure everything is in place.
“You’d be stupid if you weren’t somewhat nervous, but it’s kind of like stage fright,” Lowry says. “It’s a lot of people, but you’ve got many people who are so committed to coming together for this historic moment in time. I feel really good about it.”
DeFlorimonte-Lucas, who says her husband will probably record the inauguration on TV for her to watch when she gets home, says she’s not nervous at all.
“I think it’s because I’m going to focus on the event as being peaceful, fun, exciting, and happy. That’s what I see in my mind’s eye. I would not miss it for the world.”