Typhoon Haiyan and Filipino-American Nurses
An easily-overlooked aspect of the U.S. healthcare industry is how dependent it is on Filipinos. By one measure, there are 200,000 Filipino nurses working in American hospitals; they make up around 30% of the nurses in New York state. The supply goes back to the early 20th century, when the Philippines was an American colony. The U.S., in desperate need of healthcare workers, allowed Filipinos to bypass the strict immigration controls that kept Chinese and Japanese immigrants out of the country.
Filipinos joke that the process of becoming a nurse bound for the U.S. begins in the womb — “Parents would say, ‘Oh if I have a girl, I would send this person to the States so that they could work there as a nurse,’” says Nella Pineda-Marcon (above), an RN who moved to the U.S. in the late 80s and works at Mt. Sinai on the Upper East Side.
But in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, some of them are headed back to their homeland. Hundreds of American nurses are currently deploying to the worst-hit regions. The New York State Nurses Association has organized 150 Registered Nurses — in cooperation with the Registered Nurses Relief Network and the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns.
These include Filipinos like Pineda-Marcon, who provided psychiatric care after 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, but also Linda Benoit, a Haitian-American nurse who has worked in a number of disaster zones and knows how difficult the work is.
“You’re gonna see women pregnant,” said Benoit. “Babies need to be delivered. And then you have to catch the baby, and there is nothing to catch [it] — there’s mud, there’s rock, there’s water, there’s wood, and the rubble. So those kinds of situations, expect that you are in the jungle and you need to save lives.”
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