Hurricane Irma Aftermath: DNP Student Assists in Bringing Mobile Hospital to Community

November 1, 2017
group in a supply room

Melanie O’Neill, a student in Chamberlain’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program and graduate of the university's Master of Science in Nursing program, is one of many who have been impacted by recent natural disasters. She was required to evacuate her home in the upper Florida Keys because of Hurricane Irma. Her home was damaged and her workplace, Mariners Hospital, was flooded during the hurricane.

“Now it is even more important to give something back to our nurses who have lost so much,” said O’Neill, pictured far right.

Just two days after the hurricane hit, she decided to return home and start assisting with getting Mariners Hospital reestablished. While doing so, she also took on the additional responsibility of helping to bring a field hospital to the community.

“The director of the emergency department and I were assigned to oversee the nursing aspect of the mobile hospital,” she said. “We were given three days to make sure we had all the equipment and supplies we needed to see what D-MAT (the government unit who left for Puerto Rico as soon as we took over) said would be 60-100 patients daily.”

Even while taking on this added responsibility to help her community and colleagues, O’Neill was determined to stay on top of her DNP coursework and practicum project.

“My professor, Dr. Cara Wallace, has been so supportive, caring and professional,” she said. “I was actually so overwhelmed by her support, but I have never asked for extended time on assignments. I’m one of those people who set a goal, and I always intend to meet my goal.”

O’Neill’s practicum project is focused on implementing a shared governance structure among nursing staff at a local hospital. She sees her project as a way to help bring some normalcy back to the nursing staff and allow them to play an active role in rebuilding their hospital.

“I know how important it is to open a hospital to serve our community, and I know how important my project will be to the nurses at Fishermen’s Community Hospital,” O’Neill added. “By giving the nurses structural empowerment, increasing their decision making and giving them control over their nursing practice, the patients will experience improved outcomes and the nurses will realize their value.”

O’Neill’s altruism hasn’t gone unnoticed by Dr. Wallace, who worked with her to adjust her project to fit her current situation.

“Her efforts have been focused on her community since the hurricane, which truly shows us what caring is about,” Wallace said. “Instead of concentrating on the damage her own home suffered, she made her colleagues and her community her first and foremost priority.

“Recognizing there was a dire need to provide medical care for individuals and families in her community, she worked tirelessly with her colleagues to ensure the mobile hospital units were set up and ready for operation. For this, and all she continues to do, Melanie is Chamberlain Care in action.