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Christus nurses land in San Antonio before Hurricane Harvey hits

On two hours’ notice and without knowing what they would face, 13 nurses from Christus Health System in eastern Texas boarded a plane bound for San Antonio on Aug. 25 to help colleagues deal with Hurricane Harvey’s wrath.

With many Christus facilities located in southern and eastern Texas and Louisiana, multiple sites were affected by the hurricane. When nursing leadership at Christus St. Michael Health System heard reports of NICU babies and other patients being transferred from stricken areas to San Antonio, Louise Thornell, MSN, MSBA, RN, NE-BC, VP/CNO at Christus St. Michael asked, “How can we help?” The answer: “We need nurses.”

Immediately nurse leaders at St. Michael reached out to their staff. Response came from many departments, including the ED, ICU and med/surg.

Two hours later, nurses including Kelli Thompson, BSN, RN, WCC, SCRN, a clinical coordinator of outpatient services for IV Infusion/Wound Care at the Atlanta campus, boarded the 13-seat plane in Texarkana, bound for San Antonio.

Christus St. Michael Health team on its way to San Antonio just before Hurricane Harvey makes landfall

Back row, from left: Jared Clark, RN; Nicole Fant, MSN, RN, SCRN; Kelli Thompson, BSN, RN, WCC, SCRN; Cassie Hawsler, RN; Louise Thornell, MSN, MBA, RN, NE-BC, VP/chief nursing officer, Christus St. Michael Health System; Micah Johnson, MSN, RN; Charlotte Bowling, BSN, RN-BC; Shana Holt, BSN, RN; Brandi Wilson, RN; Connie Burkland, MSN, RN, CNOR; and Chris Karam, president, chief executive officer, Christus St. Michael Health System. Front row, from left: Ryan Elkins, RN; Jessie Self, BSN, RN; Bruno Castro, RN; and Toni Radford, BSN, RN.

“Nurses took that huge leap of faith and got on the plane without knowing how long they’d be gone or what they would be doing,” Thornell said.

The Texarkana nurses arrived in San Antonio hours before Hurricane Harvey made landfall. “There wasn’t much time to think or plan,” Thompson said. “I went home, threw some clothes in a bag, got what I thought was needed for a couple of days, and left.”

By the time the 13 RNs from St. Michael arrived and were deployed to the Christus San Antonio Medical Center and Christus Santa Rose New Braunsfel hospital, 70 patients already had been transferred out of the hurricane’s path; 40 more followed.

Thompson found herself working the night shift in New Braunsfel, assisting staff nurses with whatever was needed in the MICU. “We helped with admissions, started IVs, cleaned up patients,” said Thompson. “We did whatever they needed us to do.”

Christus St. Michael nurses are determined to help their colleagues in San Antonio. From left: Kelli Thompson, BSN, RN, WCC, SCRN; Nicole Fant, MSN, RN, SCRN; Ryan Elkins, RN; and Micah Johnson, MSN, RN.

Christus St. Michael nurses are determined to help their colleagues in San Antonio. From left, Kelli Thompson, BSN, RN, WCC, SCRN; Nicole Fant, MSN, RN, SCRN; Ryan Elkins, RN; and Micah Johnson, MSN, RN.

Thompson said she and fellow volunteers primarily worked in the MICU, a step-down unit and a medical telemetry floor. “They had patients who were very sick and needed a lot of care.”

Normally they had 20 to 22 patients on the floor, Thompson said. “One night we had 33 patients. It was a big difference from what they were used to,” she said.

Micah Johnson, MSN, RN, director of nursing at Christus St. Michael Hospital-Atlanta, also responded to the call for volunteers.

“I mainly filled supportive type roles in the ICU, like turning patients, taking vital signs and relieving nurses for their breaks,” Johnson said. “We all went with the mindset that we’d do whatever they needed done.”

The volunteer nurses, who were paid their regular rate for time worked, slept in empty patient rooms on hospital beds and cots. None had specific disaster relief experience; some hadn’t worked at the bedside for a while.

Johnson said he and fellow volunteers noticed that patients who had been transferred to New Braunsfel from outside of the area noticeably lacked the support of family. Caring for these patients was especially meaningful, he said.

In whatever circumstances they encountered, Thompson said the mood was positive as volunteers and staff nurses worked side by side.

“The nurses who were based there were wonderful and very appreciative of us being there,” Thompson said.

Some slept over at the hospital with the volunteer workers, concerned that the possibility of local flooding could prevent them from returning for their shift the following day.

Christus St. Michael nurses and nursing leadership pray as they prepare to leave

Christus St. Michael nurses and nursing leadership pray as they prepare to leave.

During their four days of serving, Thompson said patients often mentioned their gratitude to the volunteers. Though the duties performed were often simple, she said the volunteers knew they were making a difference.

“One patient hadn’t had a bath in several days and really wanted a shower, but she was too weak. So I told her I would bathe her in bed,” Thompson said. “Afterward, she told me she felt like a totally different person. It was a small thing, but in the big picture I was able to make this lady feel wonderful.”

For Johnson, “the biggest take away was the involvement of nurses. It was nice to see nurses come together. When we got there the nurses there had open arms; they were very appreciative, very humbled at our coming.”

Thornell considers this experience one that exemplifies the Christus health system’s mission “to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ.”

“[The mission] wasn’t fulfilled only by those who went as volunteers. We also recognize the contributions of those who didn’t travel,” she said. “They had to back fill the shifts and manage patients left by the nurses who traveled.”

Both Thompson and Johnson would accept disaster relief opportunities again. “It was a very humbling situation,” said Thompson, who is enrolled in a nurse practitioner program, adding that this experience has prompted her to consider future mission work. “It made a real impact on my life, maybe more than I’ll ever know.”

Pictured in top photo: Christus St. Michael nurses Toni Radford, BSN, RN, and Jessi Self, BSN, RN, discuss plans as they prepare to travel to San Antonio.


Courses Related to ‘Disaster Response’

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Major disasters affect everyone, but the senior population is particularly vulnerable to their devastating effects. Of the about 1,200 people who died in Hurricane Katrina in 2005, 74% were older than age 60, and 50% of those were older than age 75. Those who survived experienced stressful and sometimes inappropriate displacement and often a significant decline in health and functioning. Similar disproportionate deaths among seniors have been documented in other natural disasters. This module will inform nurses about how they can help protect the health and lives of older Americans when they are faced with disaster.

CE409-60: RNs Shelter Victims of Disaster
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WEB259: Nursing Leadership and Emergency Preparedness (1 contact hr)
Ever run a code? Been called by a neighbor in an emergency? Asked to help in a public emergency because you are a nurse? There is a reason for that! Nurses are well recognized for their emergency response and ability to lead teams in disaster preparedness. Learn about the state of disaster preparedness in healthcare and the trend to mobilize nurse leaders in this specialty area.

By | 2021-05-07T15:09:39-04:00 September 14th, 2017|Categories: Nurses Stories, Nursing News|Tags: |3 Comments

About the Author:

Karen Schmidt, RN, is a freelance writer.


  1. Avatar
    Louise Thornell September 16, 2017 at 11:35 pm - Reply

    Thank you Karen for sharing our story – our CHRISTUS nursing colleagues in Corpus Christi, SanAntonio, and Beaumont and the residents of Texas and Florida continue to be in our prayers.
    Take Care

  2. Avatar
    Lynn Trimborn September 24, 2017 at 10:16 pm - Reply

    Dear Nursing Colleagues: thank you for showing the world what the “hands and feet of Christ” really look like. Your story touched me deeply and in light of the disasters in the last month all around the globe, you showed us all that we need to brush up on our knowledge of disasters and what to do in the face of them. Thank you.

  3. Avatar
    Jainnisa Mai September 28, 2017 at 12:12 am - Reply

    Thank you for your time caring and being there for those in need

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