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Hundreds of Southland nurses volunteer to go to Haiti

January 14, 2010 |  7:49 pm

Hundreds of Southland doctors and nurses were preparing today to travel to Haiti to aid relief efforts. More than 400 nurses in Southern California have volunteered to travel there in response to an appeal from National Nurses United, a 150,000-member nurses union.

More than 4,500 nurses have volunteered nationally, a union spokesman said.

Nurse Lunie Dorcin of Lancaster is expected to be among the first group of about 40 nurses sent this weekend. Dorcin, 33, a registered nurse at Antelope Valley Hospital, grew up and trained in Haiti before moving to the U.S. in 2004.

“This is my country,” she said. “I can help them.”

She still remembers the challenges of providing medical care in Haiti before the earthquake: sporadic electricity, outdated medical equipment or no equipment at all. Many of Dorcin’s relatives are still in Haiti, some in peril after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake Tuesday afternoon.

Today, she said she talked to her older sister, Rosenardine Audige, for the first time since the earthquake. Audige had troubling news: Although most of the family is accounted for, their 27-year-old niece, Tania Audige, was missing in Port-au-Prince, where she ran a grocery store.

Dorcin said that between treating patients in Port-au-Prince, she hopes to stop by her niece’s home to check on her.

Dorcin plans to go to Haiti for a month. Her employer, like several other area hospitals, allowed her to use vacation time. She said her husband, who also is Haitian, approved.

“He’s happy because he’s not a nurse and he can’t go — but I can,” she said.

The nurses’ union has been working with the Navy and other military officials to ensure their passage into the capital and security on the ground, said spokeswoman Jill Furillo.

Furillo said the group learned from Hurricane Katrina relief efforts that they need to send skilled nurses first, with reinforcements in coming weeks. The first group of nurses will all be trained in disaster relief, she said.

They are expected to arrive at a mobile command center in Miami this weekend, where they will coordinate with the Haitian American Nurses Assn in Miami and the Haitian Nurses Assn. in Port-au-Prince to ensure they go where they are most needed, she said.

Furillo, also a registered nurse, said medical experts expect to see only greater demand for services in coming weeks, as they did after Hurricane Katrina and other disasters.

“You’ve got people who when a disaster strikes, they stay in their home. Maybe they have a loved one trapped in the rubble or who died. They may have medical problems and that’s going to exacerbate any underlying condition they have,” she said.

—Molly Hennessy-Fiske