With nursing homes and other health care facilities in the Beaumont area being evacuated, the residents took shelter in the Ornelas Health and Physical Education Center building.
Tyler Junior College’s nursing students stepped in and filled the gap, providing over 3,034 hours of volunteer service to 246 elderly and specific care dependant evacuees. 2,230 hours came in an eight day span.
“Our salvation was our faculty being there all the time,” Kay Devereux, Department chair of Vocational Nurse Education at TJC, said.
Some Students who had spent just two weeks in the nursing program were put in real-life situations and expected to perform essential tasks successfully.
“I had never done anything like that,” nursing student Jennifer Lee said “I was scared.”
Despite the bleak overtones of lost possessions and destroyed homes, the mood was reasonably upbeat.
Students provided care and tried to put a smile on as many faces as possible.
Anything from bingo to just listening to stories or history, or simply asking a few questions became part of the routine for the impromptu caregivers.
But laughter was not constant. Stress ran high at times and was a defining factor through the time the evacuees were here.
“You find out who is going to cuss you out after a while, but you just laugh it off because you understand,” said Ashleigh Nichols, nursing student.
Fourteen residents were bed-ridden and required extreme care and intensive monitoring.
“It touched our [students and faculty’s] lives in a way that will last a lifetime,” said Devereux.
Residents arrive in buses and ambulances, have their bags with them and they expect to be treated well.
Coping with the numbers and needs can be a difficult task. The fact is that unless you’ve done this before, there is no way to know what to expect.
Devereux said that the department is now very proficient in this process with the experience of Katrina, Ike and now Gustov.
“We’re never saying it won’t happen,” said Ginger Christansen LVN Coordinator
Nobody understands this more than former TJC student and practicing RN, Mitch Notterville, who went through this experience in 2005 with Katrina as a student. Mitch pledged his time once again and aided in supervision of the nursing students, while lending his expertise as a medical professional.
Devereux and Christansen went on to say that they were proud of how well the students represented the town, campus and nursing program.
When it came time for the evacuees to leave, there was a mix of emotions.
“We really got to know them,” said Nikki Greene, nursing student. “They didn’t want you to leave.”
Most of the students were a little relieved when it was time to get back to regular life. Classes were still going on, test needed taking and most students still had to go to work.
” I was nervous in the beginning, but now I’ve gained a lot of confidence in myself, and my abilities,” said Lee.