Nursing Professor Lends Expertise to Flood Victims

When Professor of Nursing Nancy Brauhn learned that local shelters were in need of volunteers to help families cope with the mental anxieties brought about by the devastating flood, she recognized that she was being called to lend assistance in her area of expertise. Brauhn, who teaches psychiatric nursing and is a licensed family therapist, spent several days at the shelter at the Viola Gibson Elementary School, ministering to people displaced by the flood.

“It was through an e-mail that I learned the shelters were looking for people who could help with counseling or mental health issues,” says Brauhn. “I just looked at my husband and said, ‘I think we’re being called.’”

Brauhn and her husband both went through a Red Cross training session before starting their volunteer work, which helped prepare them to meet the needs of the people at the shelter. “The training helped us know what to expect,” says Brauhn. “It psychologically prepared us for the people we might encounter.” Many of the individuals and families at the shelter were in shock over having to evacuate their homes and leave their pets and belongings behind. Most were at the shelter because they had no family or friends in the area. “They had nobody, they were very lonely and fearful,” says Brauhn.

Brauhn’s background in psychiatric nursing helped her assist people who were in need of medications due to mental health issues. The first couple of days were spent sorting prescriptions and other medications that people needed. Brauhn and other volunteers were busy “working to get them back on track mentally,” she says.

The enormous effort the Red Cross made to meet the needs of every individual was also reflected in their efforts to treat everyone with respect and courtesy. “I was very impressed with the environment the Red Cross created for everybody,” says Brauhn. “Every person was treated with dignity and respect, and the Red Cross even referred to them as ‘guests.’”

As a nurse, Brauhn has witnessed many situations of personal crisis, from cancer diagnosis to the loss of a loved one. There are human reactions to such losses that share similarities, but Brauhn also recognizes the unique path of each person’s journey. “Each person’s story is different,” she says. “How they process things can be so different. Some people [at the shelter] were so resilient.” Others, Brauhn recalls, suffered from high anxiety and panic attacks as the full realization of what had happened sunk in.

The cooperation of the community, from local businesses who donated goods and services, to the civic and church volunteers who met the physical and spiritual needs of the people, helped contribute to the mass relief effort. Brauhn and her husband still contribute to that effort, continued to volunteer part-time at the shelter set up at Prairie High School. “It was rewarding to be able to meet so many people’s needs,” she says. “We looked forward to returning each day.”