For National Nurses Week Help Build A “Nurses House”

April 19th, 2012

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By , BSN, RN 

Nurses helping nurses. That’s how it should be. We’ve had a lot of focus lately on how as nurses we often turn on each other, resort to bad behavior and bullying. We know it’s a problem.

But how about, for a change, we focus on how we help each other. With National Nurses Week just around the corner in May, I want to introduce every nurse, every nursing student to an amazing organization that exists solely to help nurses in need.

Located in a small office in upstate New York, this is a non-profit organization, managed by nurses, dedicated to helping nurses. Nurses House is a national service program run by a volunteer board of directors (all nurses) with an executive director, who is also a nurse. Their mission is to provide short-term financial assistance to nurses in need as a result of illness, injury, or disability.

How Nurses House Was Built

The organization goes back to 1922, Director of Development Stephanie Dague proudly told me. A woman named Emily Bourne left $300,000 in her will, stipulating that it be used to provide a place where nurses, ill or exhausted, could come to rest. Although she wasn't a nurse, Bourne thought highly of nurses. With the money, a stately, beachfront mansion was purchased, and named after Bourne. The house could hold up to 60 residents at any given time.

Nurses who came to rest and recuperate at Nurses House were referred to as “guests” and that term is used to this day, despite the fact that the actual house is no more. Nurses House was often filled to capacity during the busy summer months, as accommodations were peaceful, restful, and provided privacy.

”One of the outstanding features of the house was a huge dolphin fountain that stood right outside the main house,” Dague told me. “It became a symbol of the house and the organization. A lot has changed over the years but we kept the dolphin as the symbol of the organization.”

After nearly forty years, as a result of changing socio-economic times, the governing body of Nurses House realized that what nurses really needed was short-term financial assistance to get back on their feet in their own communities. In 1959, the Bourne home was sold to create a fund, the only national charitable foundation dedicated to helping nurses in need.

Who Receives Assistance 

Over the years Nurses House has provided financial aid to thousands of nurses in all 50 states. The “guests” have ranged in age from 20 – 80-years-old and their diagnoses have run the gamut from cancer and depression, to spinal fusion and multiple sclerosis. There have been recipients with simple short-term illnesses or injuries and nurses who are permanently disabled.

”We have helped nurses in dire situations that didn’t involve illness or injury, too,” Dague told me. “We have helped victims of house fires and tornadoes and other natural disasters. We have helped nurses caught in domestic violence situations. While the application for aid says we require a health status report for each applicant, that can be waived depending on the situation.

”Sometimes the nurse asking for help says they can’t afford a doctor to get a formal health report,” Dague added. “Or they have no way to even get to a doctor. We work with people. In the last few years I can only think of two cases where we have had to turn someone down.”

Many nurses need funds to help pay for such basics as food, a car payment, or health insurance. Some face imminent eviction. Over the past three years, Nurses House has helped nearly 300 nurses, with grants totaling almost $300,000.

National Nurses Week

A number of major hospitals have taken the mission of Nurses House and made it their own. From April 12-May 12, 2012 staff members at these hospitals are collecting donations, in denominations of one and five dollars. In return, Dolphins will be displayed in a designated area of each hospital during Nurses Week, May 6-12, as a way for nurses to show support for their colleagues facing dire circumstances.

“Another reason we have kept the symbol of the dolphin (besides the original fountain) is because of how we know dolphins typically help their own,” said Dague. “When one is injured, the pod will stay with them, taking care of them.” What a great example and one we as nurses can really learn from.

Nurses House certainly has an admirable record, but the truth is, they have trouble keeping pace with the ever-increasing demand. “What we can give all depends on how much we are receiving,” Dague explained. “Although we haven’t seen as much of a slowdown in donations, due to the economy, as some other charities, we are still limited in how much we can help.”

My suggestion is do something for National Nurses Week other than have an ice cream social. We all like to be appreciated but we could make a week that celebrates who we are and what we do more meaningful by helping ourselves. Sign up your friends, sign up your department, get your whole hospital on board. Helping Nurses House may literally be one day helping yourself. For more information on how your group can participate, contact Dague at sdague@nurseshouse.org or (518)456-7858 x27.

Though Nurses House is no longer a physical place of respite, it continues to meet Bourne’s mission of helping nurses when they need it most. 

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