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Life-changing Hurricane Irma Leaves Positive Experiences for Some



Irma. It’s a name that will forever take on meaning for millions across the Caribbean, Florida and beyond.


For weeks, South Floridians listened to weather alerts, prepared their homes, rode out the storm and began their recovery process. Millions of people were personally affected, and among them were dedicated professors from Florida Atlantic University’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing who opened and managed one of Palm Beach County’s storm shelters.


FAU’s Dr. Rhonda Goodman, Associate Professor and Family Nurse Practitioner, opened the shelter at Boca Raton High School the Friday before Hurricane Irma slammed into Florida. At its peak, the shelter housed 1,700 guests, from ocean-front millionaires to homeless individuals. They ranged in age from one week old to 95 years old, and they were of all colors, races, religions and ethnicities. Goodman, who has been the only shelter nurse in the area since 2003, also had four FAU nursing students with her - Queen Aisha Abdul Akbar, Henry June, Rivkah Averbukh, and Ashley Johannsen – and, additionally, an exchange student from Japan, Marina Terada. They assisted with shelter management and guests’ needs.


“Disasters are great equalizers,” said Goodman. “My students and I triaged families with small children, older guests with medical issues, and guests from other countries who were in the area at the time the storm hit.”

The FAU nursing students made rounds with Dr. Goodman the first day the shelter was open. They conducted holistic assessments on many guests, and by the second day, the students were on their own assisting an older guest to the bathroom, feeding an older couple, entertaining children with songs and games, disposing of medical items in appropriate containers, and much more. Along the way, the students, Dr. Goodman and Dr. Beth King, FAU assistant professor of nursing and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, who joined the team on the shelter’s second day, had the opportunity to engage with the guests who brought as much joy to the volunteers as the volunteers brought to the guests.


“Being in the shelter gave us the opportunity to meet people we would not have otherwise,” said Goodman. “We had an amazing encounter with a 93 year old man who proposed to me, by the way, and his caregiver wife. He was a World War II veteran, and he shared great stories with us. We were also able to have a clinical conference afterwards to discuss ways to meet his needs and his wife's needs moving forward.”


Also during the shelter’s operations, Dr. King provided assistance to guests with pre-storm anxiety and other mental health issues. The students were able to witness her calm and caring approach with these guests during this incredibly stressful time.


People might ask why someone would sacrifice time at home or with their family to run a shelter during a storm, and Dr. Goodman’s response is simple, “I honestly enjoy it. I know that I am helping people - providing some calm in the midst of chaos, a gentle touch, an ear to listen, and I'm helping them to feel safe. And when I do try and take a nap, I know that I am still needed, when I hear the police on the radio ask, ‘Does anybody have eyes on Rhonda? We need her.’ That’s music to these old nurse's ears.”