While many providers may be familiar with the American Red Cross's involvement in blood donations nationwide (they collect 40% of the nation's blood supply), providers may not realize that American Red Cross needs volunteers with health care experience to assist the community in disaster relief efforts. Red Cross responds to nearly 60,000 disasters every year, most of which are residential house fires. While these may not garner the same attention as a more large-scale disaster, house fires still have a huge emotional impact on the people who experience them. Health care providers, especially mental health providers, can play a critical role in assisting people with finding the mental health resources they need to recover from a disaster, particularly when it results in a fatality. Lori Arnold-Ellis, Executive Director at American Red Cross, recently went on AFMC TV to discuss how providers can get more involved.
Whether the disaster is large or small, the Red Cross is there to provide any assistance that an individual might need in the event of a disaster. "While [house fires] may not get the same media attention as a hurricane or a wildfire, these tragedies are huge tragedies for the people experiencing them," Lori says. "The Red Cross is there to provide immediate emergency needs for those people in a disaster." Although their relief efforts are vital to an individual's recovery, Red Cross only has 200 volunteers in Arkansas. "That's not nearly enough," Lori said. Since they respond to three to five house fires daily, Red Cross still needs volunteers, especially those with medical experience.
One of Red Cross's biggest needs is volunteers who are health care providers. "Whether that's nurses, doctors, anybody who has a license to practice health care in the state of Arkansas, we need those volunteers to help us with our health support services and our mental health services," Lori adds. The health support and mental health services work that Red Cross does is vital to a person's recovery after a disaster. If, for example, someone loses their medication or medical equipment in a house fire, Red Cross can use its volunteers with health care licenses to help that person get their medication or medical equipment back. "Many times, the people that we serve don't have the means or understand how to get those things recovered," Lori says. "So having a health care provider who can help them recover those losses is a huge need we have right now."
Become Part of the Solution
Providers who are interested in volunteering with Red Cross can go to redcross.org/volunteertoday. Providers can apply to several teams, including Blood Donor Ambassador, Blood Transportation Specialist, Disaster Action Team, and Disaster Health Services Team. "There are several sections for you to fill out your qualifications," Lori says. Although Red Cross needs volunteers in all areas, their biggest need is in the Disaster Health Services team. Lori encourages health care and mental health providers to apply: "Going through a disaster, it's not just the physical toll it takes on you; it's the emotional toll as well. A lot of the people that we serve don't have the means to pay for counseling services." Offering free mental and physical health care services in the wake of a disaster makes a big impact on the community.
Going through a disaster, it's not just the physical toll it takes on you; it's the emotional toll as well.
"The first step in getting involved in work with Red Cross is taking the first step to do something about it," Lori says. "A lot of people think it's a daunting process because there is training involved, but it is actually very rewarding." Though there is some training involved to learn about Red Cross's processes and procedures, for health care providers, assisting in recovery efforts is good work, and the impact on the community is immeasurable. Last year, the Red Cross responded to 1400 house fires, which affected just as many families. "We're talking about thousands of people who need a place to live, need food, need help taking those first steps," Lori says. "Oftentimes they need a wheelchair replaced or a C-PAP machine replaced, and they need to know that somebody cares." People need help all across the state, not just in central Arkansas. "Arkansas has one of the highest fire incidence rates in the country," Lori adds.
We're talking about thousands of people who need a place to live, need food, or need help taking those first steps after a disaster.
Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, said, "The only thing is to see the need and find a way to meet it." That's what Lori says the Red Cross is all about: seeing the need and finding a way to meet it. "The Red Cross is about communities helping their own communities, and the more volunteers, the more people who are coming in from their communities that can help their neighbors, friends, and loved ones, the better." Red Cross provides the training and the resources, and the people help each other.
The time constraints are entirely based on a volunteer's preference: volunteers can spend an afternoon installing smoke alarms in a household or spend rotating weeks being on call in case there is a house fire in the area. "Even if you have a little bit of time, we could still use you," Lori says. "If you're retired and you're looking for some way to help the community, we can definitely use you."