Philadelphia, PA — The American Nurses Association announced at its 2002 Biennial Convention, being held here June 30-July 2, that it will work with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Public Health Preparedness and the Public Health Service (PHS) to establish a National Nurses Response Team (NNRT). The NNRT will be dedicated to responding to a Presidentially declared disaster to provide mass immunization or chemoprophylaxis to a population at risk.
"I think every one of us as health professionals, as members of a caring profession, and as Americans, wanted to find some way to help our country after the attacks of September 11th and the anthrax events," stated Rear Admiral Mary Pat Couig, MPH, RN, FAAN, chief nurse officer of the PHS, who represented HHS at the ANA Convention. Couig joined ANA President Mary E. Foley, MS, RN, in making the announcement at the convention’s opening session June 30, and outlined how the NNRT would work.
It is estimated that any bioterrorist event that involved even 100,000 patients would require 200 personnel working 100 hours just to deliver chemoprophylaxis. Other scenarios that involve agents that can be transmitted by person-to-person contact, such as smallpox, could require treatment vaccination for millions of people. Recognizing the inade organizations such as ANA to ensure that adequate resources exist to respond to a national public health crisis. quacy of the current infrastructure to respond to a major biological event, the HHS is reaching out to professional.
"The ANA is extremely pleased to be partnering with the Department of Health and Human Services in this endeavor. Registered nurses have always answered the call from our country’s leaders when the unique and valuable skills of nursing were needed," stated Foley, noting that since 1998, the ANA has been working with other national health professions associations and emergency medical and fire rescue representatives to address the issue of overall readiness of health professionals to respond to the use of a weapon of mass destruction. "We now have another opportunity to serve this country."
The NNRT will be a large cadre of nurses who would function under the auspices of HHS and could be quickly deployed in response to a major national event, such as last fall’s anthrax attacks. As the NNRT sponsor, the ANA would serve as the conduit to recruit registered nurses, relying on its capacity to reach thousands of nurses through its organizational relationships with its 54 constituent member associations and more than 100 specialty, nursing organizations. HHS would process and screen applications from nurses and manage day-to-day operations when in reserve and during deployment.
The ANA also would provide ongoing education about disaster response, in cooperation with HHS, during ANA meetings, via the Web, and through other means. In addition, ANA would serve as an advocate for the program, a professional resource for HHS, and when the NNRT is deployed, a spokesperson and advocate for nurses who have given theirtime and expertise for disaster relief efforts.
"ANA believes that when needed, the NNRT will be an excellent public health asset that will augment the resources of other local, state, and federal response efforts," Foley said.
When deployed, members of NNRT would be "federalized," thus receiving umbrella coverage for licensure and liability, as well as a salary, travel and housing reimbursement, and per diem expenses during their duty period.
The employment status of NNRT members is also addressed in the "Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Response Act of 2002," signed into law by President Bush on June 12, which authorizes $4.5 billion to improve public health preparedness; to enhance controls on deadly biological agents; and to protect the nation’s food, medication, and drinking water supplies. A provision of this law ensures the re-employment of deployed NNRT members. Employers would not be required to release an NNRT member for deployment, but if registered nurses are released, employers are required to re-employ them following the duty period.
The ANA has also provided tools to guide employers in the event of deployment. This past spring, the ANA Board of Directors approved two position statements on this issue. Registered Nurses Rights and Responsibilities Related to Work Release During a Disaster speaks to the rights and responsibilities of RNs who desire release from their workplaces to participate in disaster relief efforts. Policy for Work Release During a Disaster is for use by employers to govern the release of RNs from their workplaces for disaster relief efforts.
ANA’s House of Delegates passed a resolution at its meeting June 29 approving the creation of the NNRT. Opportunities are available onsite at the convention for nurses to sign up for the program.