Story and photo by Michele Maki, American Red Cross
“We’re their family while they’re away.” This is the unofficial motto of one of the unsung heroes of the American Red Cross-the nurses that staff its Staff Wellness Services during Disaster Response Operations. Most folks are aware of some of the history of the Red Cross and its nurses, especially Clara Barton in its early years and the bravery of the Red Cross Nurses during pandemics such as the Spanish Influenza that killed millions following World War I. But few know, even within the Red Cross itself, the important role our nurses play in keeping our own volunteers healthy and caring for them during a disaster operation when they fall ill.
Most Red Crossers think of each other as “family” and these nurses take that caring seriously. Mary Jean Kippenbrock, RN and Red Cross Volunteer explains, “We do take the health of our volunteers very seriously. They are here, away from their own families to help those in need. When they fall ill, we’re here to help. We become their family.”
Earlier in the day, Nurse Kippenbrock came to the aid of a volunteer who had become ill by getting his prescription filled and delivering it to his hotel room, ensuring his rest and recovery. “This is just the kind of thing his family would do for him if he were home. He’s here to help others and can’t because he’s ill, so we become his family and will take care of these things so he can recover.”
But the caring of these Red Cross Nurses doesn’t stop there. “If a volunteer is so sick that we need to send them home, we make sure this is done safely and with their health in mind.” Nurse Kippenbrock went on to explain that in some cases the nurses in Staff Wellness will book their flight home for them and if need be, escort them home, or even to the emergency room if necessary. “Their health and safety is our concern. Again, we are their family while they are away from their own.”
Truly, the American Red Cross is Family.