Following the disastrous tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri two weeks ago, the University of Michigan Health System has answered the national call for volunteers by the American Red Cross to assist the victims of the natural disaster.

Kara Gavin, UMHS director of public relations, said her office sent out an e-mail to 25,000 staff members and students involved in UMHS, urging individuals to volunteer and assist those affected by the tornado.

Gavin said the e-mail also encouraged UMHS employees with medical training — nurses, physicians, psychologists and social workers — to contact the Red Cross if they were interested in deploying to Joplin or other southern states that were affected.

“The response … has been very gratifying,” Gavin said. “Dozens of our staff have indicated already that they’d be willing to deploy.”

Beginning this week and running through the end of the month, the Washtenaw County chapter will offer two workshops for UMHS volunteers serving down south — one for general health services and the other specifically for mental health professionals, according to Ashley Cieslinski, the chapter’s emergency services director. She added that the training will be shortened from the normal eight-hour session to a three-hour session.

According to Cieslinski, the Red Cross may be able to send UMHS volunteers to Joplin as early as Friday.

“I think that there are six or seven people that are already scheduled to take the health services workshop and I have about five social workers that will be taking the mental health workshop,” Cieslinski said.

Sam Warkentien, a UMHS emergency room nurse, traveled to Joplin two days after the deadly tornado swept through the city on May 22. A former intern at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Warkentien said she was eager to return to help with the devastating aftermath of the natural disaster.

“I went down there as an individual,” Warkentien said. “I didn’t go down there with the Red Cross or as a representative from the University of Michigan. I went down there as a person who’s from the area who wanted to help.”

Warkentien said she spent several days walking the streets of Joplin with a group of fellow volunteers providing medical advice, food and information about where to get clean water and other supplies for those in need.

Warkentien added she hopes to go back to Joplin later in the month with the Red Cross.

“I prefer to go back with an organization this time,” Warkentien said. “I understand they want organized helpers in the area to help with disaster relief because the aid was starting to get to a point where it was getting a little bit crazy.”

Warkentien and her UMHS co-workers who plan on deploying to Joplin will be doing so on their own vacation time in order to not deprive UMHS patients of care, according to Gavin.

“(UMHS is) always willing to pass along the call for volunteers and, as much as we can help, our staff lend their skills where they’re needed while also making sure that our patients here are served,” Gavin said.

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