Nurses back from South

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Seven local nurses who traveled to the Gulf Coast to assist in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts returned safely to Steamboat Springs on Monday.

"I feel like my heart is still there," said Eve Stephenson, a Yampa Valley Medical Center nurse who spent the holiday weekend in Louisiana. "It's hard to come back."

But the nurses' return doesn't signal the end of local support for the hurricane- and flood-affected areas.

On Tuesday, a group of five YVMC nurses left to help with relief efforts through Saturday. Those nurses are Linda Casner, Julie Alkema, Jennie McQueen, Irene Meyers and Melissa Uchitelle-Rogers. They will join other Routt County workers already in the Gulf Coast.

Steve Rossi, EMS division chief for Oak Creek Fire Protection District, has been helping since just after the hurricane slammed into Louisiana and Mississippi.

Rossi is a member of Colorado's Disaster Medical Assistance Team, which includes medical professionals from across the state, his wife, Eileen Rossi, said. Fifty of the 75 team members went to the Gulf Coast to take part in relief efforts.

Eileen Rossi said the team has been helping patients who were evacuated by bus to the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, and are dealing with 800 patients an hour. Steve Rossi has been working nonstop, getting about three hours of sleep a night, his wife said.

Steve Rossi will work with the relief efforts for between 16 and 42 days.

Eileen Rossi said all of the people Steve has helped have been grateful for the assistance.

Routt County Emergency Services Manager Chuck Vale arrived in Mississippi more than a week ago to assist in the emergency response, and the Yampa Valley Type 2 Fire Crew left at about the same time for Meridian Naval Base in Meridian, Miss.

The second group of YVMC nurses is headed to Gautier, Miss., one of the hardest-hit areas along the Gulf Coast.

The group will work at a 200-cot shelter for patients with special needs, said Christine McKelvie, public relations director for YVMC. The shelter was built in a shopping mall parking lot. The nurses are expected to provide their own accommodations, which could mean sleeping outdoors, McKelvie said.

The nurses are flying into Jackson, Miss., and then will drive to Gautier.

The Healthcare Foundation for the Yampa Valley is paying all of the expenses for both groups of nurses, including plane tickets and other costs.

McKelvie said YVMC is happy to welcome back the first group of nurses who helped in the Gulf Coast. Most of the nurses were back to work Tuesday.

"We're very proud of them," McKelvie said.

Marie Timlin, a nurse who was part of the first group, which traveled to Baton Rouge, said the nurses feel a little overwhelmed and tired, but they are happy to be home safe. She thanked everyone who supported the group and made its trip possible.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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