Working in Crisis

Erica HamiltonErica Hamilton has a strong desire to help others, often when the need is most dire. She volunteered in New York after 9/11 and then years later traveled to Haiti after their devastating earthquake.

Now, Erica, a native of Finland, is at RACC taking classes for a certification that will also allow her to help others in need––Certified Nurse Aide program. Erica received the Mae W. Langan scholarship from the Foundation for RACC to help pay for her classes.

In Finland, Erica received what would be the equivalent of a Licensed Practical Nurse certificate here. However, she said it was difficult to earn certifications here due to a delayed immigration process and lack of valid paperwork during the time she was waiting to obtain her U.S. citizenship.

Erica completed the CNA program and passed her Red Cross certification exam. She is now working at The Highlands in Wyomissing where she will continue her passion for assisting those in need. "Helping others is close to my heart. Disaster areas are close to my heart. I am not afraid to face or deal with life conflicts, and I am well trained to face hardship situations," she said.

In 2001, Erica was vacationing in New York City when the events of 9/11 struck. Trained as a Practical Nurse in Finland, she decided to extend her one-week stay to offer her assistance. "A local high school near where I was staying became a triage center. I stayed there for two weeks and in the Ground Zero area for more than a month – helping the American Red Cross with people, victims, fellow officers and EMS personnel in need, in recovery. I sometimes stayed awake up to 26 hours or without eating for more than an 18 hours during my intensive day and night shifts."

Then my heart got tired and it was time to take care of myself, so I returned to Finland," she added.

During her time in New York, Erica drew upon her previous artillery-naval paramedic and auxiliary law enforcement experience in Finland. She grew up in Kirkkonummi, on the outskirts of Helsinki, but served in Upinniemi which has a large naval base.

"The whole island is an unmanned military installation and access for civilians is heavily restricted. A number of Coastal Artillery guns are placed there," Erica explained. "The military service consists of lessons, practical training, various cleaning and maintenance duties and field exercises."

Erica said the day's service lasted 12 hours, but received most weekends off. "A small force of service members is kept in readiness on weekends to aid civil agencies in various types of emergency situations, to guard the premises and to maintain defense in case of a sudden military emergency," she said.

She put her emergency training to work again in 2010 when disaster struck in Haiti and Erica spent her own money to travel to Port-au-Prince. She had to deal with some very difficult conditions like little food and drinking water, using water from a well and a bucket to wash up. Most of the electricity came from generators that the U.S. Army had installed, so it was rationed at times to benefit as many people possible.

Erica was with a group who worked at the Port-Au-Prince general hospital, which is known as Haitian University Hospital, that was damaged by the earthquake. "Staff who survived the earthquake returned to the hospital only to struggle to treat thousands of badly wounded patients," Erica said. "Their efforts were seriously compromised as they worked without electricity or running water, and with little or no surgical equipment, anesthesia, pain medication or sterilization."

Some of Erica's responsibilities included setting up IVs, drawing blood samples, vaccinations, delivery of babies, stitching wounds and providing other emergency care. She said it was rewarding to see her work making a difference. "The people slowly getting their lives back together, the children always smiling and the amazing patience that the people showed while waiting for care," she remembered.

Between her emergency work in New York and Haiti, Erica also visited Japan and South Korea before permanently settling in the U.S. and embarking on her quest for citizenship, which she obtained in 2011. Her dream is to become a police officer, and she relocated to Berks County from New York to attend the Reading Police Academy which does not have an age limit for applicants. While she works toward that goal, she plans to continue to work as a CNA and look into gaining her Licensed Practical Nursing certification.