Bringing help and hope: Volunteer nurses find sharing their skills rewarding

Honoring professional healthcare volunteers during National Nurses Week

By: Kelly C. McClure, MLS, BSN, RN, American Red Cross volunteer

What does a disaster look like? There’s no rough blueprint or an all-encompassing definition for the word, but for those who have lost everything in a fire, flood, earthquake, or hurricane, it can look like complete despair. In the United States alone, a disaster occurs approximately every eight minutes. Stretched out, that’s more than 60,000 disasters each year that the American Red Cross will deploy volunteers to help victims by supplying clean water, food and shelter. But what happens when there are physical injuries, wounds or medical conditions that need immediate attention? The Red Cross’ team of volunteer nurses are there to help.

Beth Kartman-Orgel, RN, Red Cross volunteer

The volunteer nurse corps for the Red Cross include an amazing team of registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) who undergo many hours of training to become Service Associates (SAs) with the Red Cross’ Disaster Health Services. In addition to learning first aid, providing care at a shelter, psychological first aid, mass casualty education and deployment training, they also learn how to reunify families that have been separated. Once deployed, they not only provide physical assessments of injured victims who may need to be transported to a hospital for a higher level of care but also provide valuable health care education to victims.

One of the many dedicated nurses in the volunteer nurse corps is registered
nurse, Beth Kartman-Orgel, who has been a nurse for 46 years and a volunteer nurse with the Red Cross for six. During this time, she has deployed to many disaster sites including several in Florida after hurricanes and some in California during wildfires.

“Being deployed is a whole lot different than being a regular nurse,” Beth said. “You need to be able to think on your feet, make do with little to no equipment or support and, at times, without electricity, running water or supervisors because there is no internet or phone service.”

Any nurse will tell you that each day brings with it a whole new set of challenges. However, as a volunteer nurse in the Red Cross, those challenges look somewhat different.

“I love the challenges we face on deployments — the different ethnicities,
languages, and belief systems among staff and clients,” she explained. “I always loved camping, so showering in a truck, washing at a sink with bottled water, if need be, using flashlights to make rounds or give meds or change dressings is all in a day’s work.” Undoubtedly, Beth loves what she does for the Red Cross and has also completed Disaster Health Services supervisor training, which she hopes to utilize on her next deployment.

Deploying to a disaster area after a hurricane or wildfire isn’t the only way nurses can be involved with the Red Cross. Registered nurse, Cindy Russo, has been a volunteer with the Red Cross for 30 years and began her journey in Blood Donor Services at blood drives. Here, she completed donor registrations and medical histories and obtained blood pressure and hemoglobin tests before blood donation. In more recent years, Cindy has predominantly worked in Disaster Health Services, assisting victims after home fires to obtain new prescriptions for their medications and necessary medical equipment like wheelchairs, walkers and oxygen machines. In the past, Cindy has also deployed to regions affected by hurricanes and has even helped install smoke alarms in local homes. After 30 years of volunteering, she has found the work to be extremely rewarding.

“Helping those in a time of need is the most rewarding part,” she said. “It is a great extension of what many nurses do every day and is a way to use their skills and talents to help others.”

If you’re a nurse and want to volunteer with the Red Cross, browse through the listings of volunteer opportunities and complete an online volunteer application.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, Red Cross volunteer
Posted by Ryan Lang, Red Cross board member and volunteer