National Nurses Day Profile: LaVern Nerlich answers call as volunteer disaster nurse

By Beth Bracale, American Red Cross volunteer

May 6, 2020- Nurses play supporting roles in our lives on a regular basis. Yet we’re especially grateful for their knowledge, skill and care when life creates the need for nurses to take on more prominent roles for our healing—or even for our survival. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the day-to-day responsibilities of many health care professionals. While they have always worked hard and placed themselves at risk, the current situation has intensified their experiences on the job.

Did you know the American Red Cross has nurses on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help the victims of disasters? They are dedicated professionals who volunteer their time to help others in addition to their regular jobs.

LaVern

LaVern Nerlich consoling residents following an apartment fire in Parma Heights in 2019

LaVern Nerlich, a nurse/volunteer for the Red Cross’ Northern Ohio Region, learned about the Red Cross as new nurse around 25 years ago. She became a disaster nurse and enjoyed it.

“It’s in my blood!” she said. LaVern loves helping others, and volunteering is a way to contribute to her community.

How do on-call nurses help after a disaster? LaVern told me that people often lose their medication or critical medical equipment when evacuating for a fire or flood. And they are often too exhausted to take the steps needed to replace them. Red Cross nurses are able to make the calls, and often get quicker results, since they know who to speak to and are familiar with medical terminology. Sometimes when speaking with a client, nurses can identify an immediate need. For example, while talking to a woman who had run back into a fire, LaVern realized the lady was having trouble breathing. LaVern directed her to go immediately to the hospital for treatment.

Nurses never know what the next phone call will bring. LaVern was called to assist after major flooding in Wayne County last summer. She also helped out after a big apartment complex fire in Parma last year. The nurses often continue with families, assisting with their medical needs resulting from the disaster. She said it’s possible to have over a hundred clients at a time.

“LaVern is an exceptional gift to Red Cross,” said Renee Palagyi, senior program manager of Disaster Cycle Services for Red Cross’ Northern Ohio Region. “She brings a strong nursing background, which allows her to make good decisions for our clients. Her devotion to the mission is always evident, and I am particularly grateful that while her real job involves working in a COVID-heavy environment, she did not hesitate to offer help with calling dozens of our volunteers to discuss how COVID impacts our current response. She’s a great asset!”

LaVern still loves her volunteer work for the Red Cross. Does it sound like something you’d like to do, too? Opportunities to volunteer as a disaster nurse or in other ways are listed on the Red Cross website. To learn more, visit: https://www.redcross.org/volunteer/volunteer-opportunities.html.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

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