Red Cross salutes nurses, ‘angels’ of its mercy mission

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

Nurses are vital to delivering the lifesaving services of the American Red Cross – an organization founded by Clara Barton, whose own nursing during the Civil War earned her the title “Angel of the Battlefield.”

“Nurses fill so many roles in the Red Cross. We couldn’t function without them,” said Barb Thomas, recovery manager for the Red Cross Northern Ohio Region.

Nationwide, more than 20,000 Red Cross nurses – both paid and volunteer – do everything from caring for disaster victims to working in military hospitals to collecting lifesaving blood. They teach CPR/first aid and disaster preparedness, and even serve in the management and governance of the Red Cross itself.

“Nurses are integral to what we do at the Red Cross, so we try to keep them engaged and be sure they know how much we appreciate them,” Barb said. “We don’t just salute them during National Nurses Week (starting today), but all year long.”

Barb introduced me to two of the dozens of nurses in northern Ohio who apply their time and skills to those who need them, near and far.

Phyllis Esposito of Massillon, Ohio, is enthusiastic about her role in Red Cross disaster health services.

Phyllis Esposito, Red Cross volunteer, with Tim Reichel, Disaster Program Manager, Heartland, Stark and Muskingum Lakes Chapter

“I can honestly say, I talk up the Red Cross every time I can,” she said. “It’s such a rewarding thing. My only regret is, why didn’t I do this 10 years earlier?”

After more than 50 years as an emergency room nurse, Phyllis understands how stressed people can be in the wake of an emergency. She knows how to help calm them, assess their health-related needs and – most importantly – fill those needs.

That can range from getting glasses, dentures or refills for medications lost in a fire evacuation to replacing a child’s aerosol machine or a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine destroyed by a tornado or flood.

Early in her Red Cross “career,” Phyllis was glad to travel to disaster sites, to look after the medical needs of home fire victims, shelter residents or even Red Cross volunteers. But she said as she’s gotten older, she’s glad to be able to serve virtually, reaching out by phone all the way to victims of a hurricane in Louisiana, for example.

This kind of long-distance service is a vital and efficient way for the Red Cross to help local disaster survivors or even a whole community where medical resources are overwhelmed.

“Phyllis is a disaster health service star,” Barb said. “She’s eager to learn as we evolve our ways of helping people, especially as we adjusted to COVID. And her personality just lets people know, there’s light at the end of this dark tunnel they’re in, after a disaster.”

Jennifer Dremann of Deerfield, Ohio, has a special rapport with those who’ve experienced tragedy in the course of a disaster.

Jennifer Dremann, Red Cross volunteer

“I lost my brother in a house fire in 1996; he was 19 years old” when he succumbed to smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide, she said. “He’s why I became a nurse.”

When Jennifer heard about what the Red Cross does, particularly for home fire victims, she knew this was a fit for her. “I’ve lived it; I’ve lost somebody. I’ve done several cases where somebody has passed. It’s got to be the absolute worst nightmare, especially when a child has perished.”

She’s also moved by cases involving an elderly adult who doesn’t have family or social support nearby.

Like Phyllis, she works with folks by phone, day or night, finding out what their disaster-related medical needs are and helping them replace prescriptions and/or medical equipment, navigating insurance and then dipping into Red Cross funds if necessary.

But perhaps the most important help she can give is to listen, not just to survivors’ physical needs but to their emotional wounds. “People are like, ‘You volunteer to do this?’ she said. “I don’t think most people realize what the Red Cross does, and how rewarding it is.”

The Red Cross is proud to have tens of thousands of skilled, compassionate nurses like Phyllis and Jennifer on the team, ready across the country and around the clock to help people prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.

To learn more about the many services of the Red Cross and how you can be involved as a volunteer, financial supporter or blood donor, go to redcross.org.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

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