National Red Cross award goes to Minnesota nurse

Barb Billmeier (center) received the Ann Magnussen Award at American Red Cross national headquarters in Washington, DC, on March 27, 2019. Photo by Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross

Congratulations! to Barb Billmeier for receiving the 2019 Ann Magnussen Award, the highest honor of nursing achievement in the American Red Cross.

Barb served as the Regional Nurse Lead in Minnesota until her recent retirement from this volunteer position. She also led the Minnesota Health Professionals Network as we strove to optimize volunteer engagement and increase capacity. Barb also serves as a volunteer disaster health services (DHS) responder helping people who need disaster assistance.

Award nominees were evaluated on four criteria: (1) provides service to others; (2) teaches and involves others; (3) exhibits compassion, professionalism, and a humanitarian spirit; and (4) demonstrates outstanding contributions to strengthening Red Cross programs and services.

Previous recipients from the American Red Cross Minnesota Region include Janice Springer in 2014.  Click here to learn more about Ann Magnussen – a graduate from the University of Minnesota.  Click here to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer.

“That” season is here

Red Cross flooding clean-up kits in Minneapolis. Photo by Jill Hallonquist.

It’s officially “that” season as we unload Flood Clean-up Kits at the Minneapolis Red Cross office. Those pictured above will head to Carver and Scott Counties. More will go to Ramsey County and other places soon. Many more will stay here in our warehouse for distribution to individuals and our partners who will be helping others during this spring flood season.

For example, we partnered with Scott County Emergency Management to open a shelter for people who evacuated their homes in a community in Jordan.  Local Red Cross volunteers arrived quickly to set up cots and other shelter necessities. We’ll continue to be there until the need passes.

Red Cross volunteers at the shelter for flooding evacuees in Jordan, Minnesota, March 15, 2019. Photo provided by Jennifer P.

This is going to be a huge response not only in Minnesota, but also in many parts of the country. To those fighting their own basement flood fight, we wish you strength and at least a little sleep here and there. We’re all in this together in whatever way we can help!

By Jill Hallonquist, Disaster Program Manager, Twin Cities Area of the American Red Cross Minnesota Region. Click here for flood prep and response safety tips and resources. For relief assistance related to this disaster please call (612) 871-7176. 

Volunteer spotlight: Desiree Haupert

Desiree with her son, Dylan, volunteering at Home Fire Campaign event in Marshall, MN. Photo courtesy of Desiree Haupert.

“This is an excellent way to give back to the same community and with our surrounding communities.”  Desiree Haupert, Red Cross Home Fire Campaign volunteer team lead for Marshall, Minnesota 

Story by Zabiba Sameru/American Red Cross

When I listen to Desiree Haupert, a mom and volunteer, speak about her experience with the American Red Cross, I can hear the excitement in her voice as she tells her story about being fulfilled as she continues to give her time to the Red Cross.

What started out as future planning to keep busy for Desiree in April of 2018 is turned into a lifetime rewarding experience. In her time volunteering at the Red Cross, she has been involved in many activities, such as Sound the Alarm by installing home smoke alarms and sharing fire safety tips in Slayton.

Red Cross volunteers responded to flooding in southwest Minnesota during 2018. Photo: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross

During the flood in Tracy, Desiree also was involved in helping residents find shelter, food and additional resources that could support them during their recovery from the flooding. She also is involved with the Pillowcase Project, campaign that teaches kids in grades 3 to 5 how to prepare for home fire emergencies and other disasters like tornadoes and blizzards.

As a duty officer, she takes calls for assistance requests, and then responds by reaching out to local Red Cross volunteers who give assistance to people who are affected by disasters. To top it all off, Desiree attends youth preparedness conferences to learn about engaging communities and provide support to them in the face of a disaster.

This year Sound the Alarm takes place April 27 – May 12.

It’s important and rewarding for Desiree to give back to her community and be an example for her kids with all the work that she’s doing with the Red Cross. Being a Red Cross volunteer gives you an opportunity to help your local community, says Desiree. “It gives me the opportunity to take ownership of something and grow in a way that I didn’t know I was needing. It’s amazing.”

On Saturday May 4, 2019, Red Cross volunteers and their partners will be installing free smoke alarms in Worthington.  Join us! Click here to learn more about the campaign. Click here to become a Red Cross volunteer. 

Deployment experience in North Carolina

This past fall volunteer Deb Thingstad Boe responded for the first time to a Red Cross call for nurses to support Hurricane Florence relief efforts. Deb deployed to North Carolina where she worked in a shelter. Below is an excerpt of  Deb’s experience originally published in the December 2018 Minnesota Metro Medical Reserve Corps newsletter. Thank you to Deb for responding to the call to serve when you’re needed most!

Deb at Smith shelter in Fayetteville

I found out the deployment process moves fast! I spoke with the Red Cross on September 25, which was almost three weeks after Hurricane Florence made landfall, and six days later I was on the ground in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I was deployed through what is called Direct Deployment (DD), which is a rapid process used to ready healthcare workers for disaster work.

Once I received a call from Red Cross staff affirming my desire to deploy, I completed forms and about 15 hours of required online training and attended a deployment training in-person. At this training I received my disaster response ID, and mission and procurement cards. The mission card was used for my expenses and the procurement card was used to help clients (there is training on this!).

Along the way I also received a suggested packing list that was invaluable. Among those items were a stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. I found out later that it’s more difficult if you do not own these items when you arrive on assignment without them.  The best thing I purchased to prepare was a self-inflating air mattress that fit on the cot I slept on. Ear plugs are a must! If I didn’t wear them, then I worried about whether the next breath is coming for some people. I wasn’t the only healthcare volunteer that talked about that.

Red Cross volunteer staff shelter (a.k.a. home)

Although it felt like everything was moving fast, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I decided I would go with the flow, take things as they come and try to do my best.

My assignment was to work 12-hour shifts at Smith Recreation Center. This Red Cross shelter was planned to be the last to close in Fayetteville. This meant that as other shelters closed people who had not been able to find housing were relocated to Smith. The shelter had about 150 people in residence, many who were among the most vulnerable people in the city: people with mobility issues, unstable chronic conditions exacerbated by displacement, chronic untreated mental illness, addiction, in hospice care, and (previous to the disaster) long-term homelessness.

Every day was different and yet alike. Within the first fifteen minutes of the first day, I was instructed on how to administer Narcan and safety precautions related to the environment. I was informed that public health obtained Narcan for the shelters because there was a death due to opioids. The shelter had many residents who accessed Disaster Health Services on a daily basis. I learned about “shelter cough.” When I arrived many residents and staff had upper respiratory symptoms, and I wondered about influenza and whether residents had been offered flu vaccinations. Just listening was an important component of care.

Visiting rural communities in North Carolina

My experience with Public Health came in very handy. Part of the plan to help one woman in the shelter included food as a prescription for her chronic health needs. Listening and choices were critical to helping her. During my three hours with her, I managed to work in stress management tips and the power of positive-thinking and being forward-moving in thought and actions.

I finished my time working in rural North Carolina working with the community to identify unmet needs, assess how migrant farm workers were managing, and identify where the Red Cross could help. We partnered with Spanish-speaking restaurant owners to inform the area churches of our presence. They opened up an area of their restaurant for Red Cross services and allowed a food truck to be positioned in their parking lot. People came for blood pressure and glucose level checks, OTC meds, blankets, diapers, and TLC (tender-loving care). Staff assigned included an interpreter, disaster mental health, and disaster healthcare. Listening and caring were critical elements of care.

Deb and her new friend Lois

One of the things I enjoyed the most was meeting volunteers from other places. The first night a few of us who had met at the shelter gathered together and headed out to dinner. None of us were assigned to the same place, which meant we met more people the next day. I met a retired pulmonologist and two EMTs, and we had dinner together every night starting on night two of a ten-day deployment. We had fun, and it was a good transition to sleep and the next day.

Deb Thingstad Boe is an American Red Cross Volunteer and a Dakota County Minnesota Medical Reserve Corps Volunteer (MRC). Photos provided by Deb. Click here to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer.

Behind the lens for disaster relief

A Red Cross volunteer since 2000, Rachel Olmanson, from Cleveland, MN, has deployed to two national responses – Hurricanes Matthew and  Katrina – where her involvement was working mostly to distribute meals and relief supplies to people living in neighborhoods.

Recently, Rachel got a new perspective on disaster relief compared to her past experiences. After multiple tornadoes hit southern Minnesota communities on September 20, Rachel took on the role of photographer and traveled with damage assessment and client casework teams in the towns of Waterville, Faribault and Morristown.

Rachel documented damage assessment teams reviewing general damage and caseworkers meeting with residents to provide relief and recovery support. While visiting one Waterville residence, Rachel took pictures showing a hole in the wall and ceiling of an upstairs bathroom that was caused by a tree limb. Homeowner Bernice was home when it happened. “We were sitting right here and Farrell said it sounds like it busted a window.”

Rachel’s pictures depict volunteers action planning, assessing overall damage, community members coming together to clear fallen trees and other debris, and residents assessing home damage while trying to figure out next steps. “I really could see a sense of community with neighbors outside helping each other to remove brush and trees off and around homes,” she says.

Rachel Olmanson

To see more of Rachel’s photos click here.

Story by Kevin Berger, Red Cross volunteer. Photos by Rachel Olmanson, Red Cross volunteer. 

Click here to learn about serving with the Red Cross.

 

The Long Road Ahead: Iowa’s Tornadoes Relief Efforts

The American Red Cross continues its effort to assist affected families since devastating tornadoes ravaged parts of central Iowa on July 19. The tornadoes leveled homes, overturned cars, and injured people.

Jeff Thelen (on the right) from Minnesota is responding to the Iowa tornado relief
efforts with Red Cross volunteers from nearby states, including Ernesto Lindsey
from Illinois. (Photo courtesy of Jeff), July 2018

Red Cross aid workers from Minnesota were among some of the first to reach people in the affected communities. The team has deployed 15 aid workers including six employees and volunteers in senior disaster management roles.

Disaster assessment shows hundreds of homes have suffered major damage. The team is working extensively on first-hand activities in the field as well behind-the-scenes relief to bridge from emergency relief to long- term recovery.

Marshalltown is the most affected area and is serving as the recovery hub for the response. In that area,  Jeff Thelen, a Red Cross volunteer from Farmington, MN, has been instrumental in distributing relief supplies. Along with his friend Ernesto from Illinois, Jeff has been going home-to-home. Already they’ve reached more than 150 households.

Multi-agency recovery center for people affected by tornadoes, Marshalltown, Iowa, July 2018. Photo: Steve Bonine/American Red Cross

“It’s very easy to spot homes in need by mere sight,” Jeff says. Emphasizing the level of destruction, he says they sometimes exhaust their truckload relief supplies mid-way through the day due to the demand and eagerness of the people to reaching out to Red Cross for disaster relief.

Nearly 400 Red Cross workers have mobilized to deliver relief and
hope. This includes 15 aid workers from the Red Cross in Minnesota.

As of July 30, Red Cross cumulative response efforts include:

The Red Cross will continue helping affected communities on the long road ahead that comes with rebuilding life after a tornado. We will provide support as long as it’s needed.  Click here to learn more about the response.

Story by Sohini Sarkar, Red Cross Volunteer

2017 Disaster Relief: A Banner Year for Mission Fulfillment

American Red Cross emergency response vehicles traveled 2.5 million miles to deliver food, relief supplies and other support to communities affected by disasters during 2017.

2017 was a banner year for American Red Cross mission fulfillment. Following multiple major disasters ranging from hurricanes and wildfires to tragic mass shootings, Red Cross workers helped people in need, providing more food, relief supplies and shelter stays than all of the last four years combined.

The American Red Cross Minnesota Region had a vital role supporting relief efforts around the nation. Responders — more than 90 percent volunteers — deployed to Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, California, and other locations. For example, our region supported 328 deployments, including 109 for the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts alone. Locally, Red Cross responders helped 952 people affected by 326 home fires.

Minnesota Red Cross volunteer Diane Dunder hands out meals in, Santa Rosa, California, during the wildfire relief effort, October 2017. Photo by Marko Kokic for the American Red Cross.

This year people were faced with major disasters and our region was there with deployments to disasters, working at home to support deployments, or providing direct relief to people impacted by disasters at home.

We are honored to serve alongside those from our region who provide humanitarian relief during times of great need. We are humbled by the dedication people have for the Red Cross mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.  To see more local thanks, click here.

From Kissimmee to Immokalee: One Red Cross Nurse Responding to Hurricane Irma

By Mary Robertson, Disaster Health Services Nurse, American Red Cross Serving Northern Minnesota

This poem was shared by Irania T., a young girl at the Immokalee, Florida Red Cross shelter days after Hurricane Irma devastated her community.

On Sunday, September 9, 2017, I deployed to Florida to provide nursing services to people impacted by Hurricane Irma. I had never experienced disaster nursing in such a massive event and my family was, understandably, somewhat anxious for me.  “Mom, people are running from this storm, why are you going toward it?” For me the answer is simple, someone has to. Someone has to be there to set up the shelters, deliver supplies, and do all of the hundreds of other things that need to be done.

My first shelter was the hurricane evacuation shelter in Kissimmee, Florida, where there were more than 400 people. They were from all walks of life — rich, poor, homeless, young, and old — sleeping together on a school gymnasium floor. Many did not speak English, but everyone worked together for communication. Health care needs were as diverse as the population — diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy, and confused elderly people and children. Each one was given as much comfort and reassurance as possible. No one was turned away. Because of the hurricane, there was no electricity, no running water, no air conditioning, and only minimal light. Hurricane Irma arrived at 2 a.m. with 110 mph winds. I looked around and could feel the building “breathing” during the height of the storm, which passed at about 5 a.m. Once daylight arrived, people began to leave to check on their homes, family members, and friends. As quickly as the shelter had opened, it closed. My time in Kissimmee had lasted only 40 hours, but felt like a lifetime.

American Red Cross shelters Immokalee, Florida residents after Hurricane Irma destroyed most of their town, September 14, 2017. Photo by Daniel Cima for the American Red Cross

I received my next assignment about 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday. Along with three other Red Cross volunteers, we left for a community named Immokalee – just north of Naples. Immokalee is one of the poorest communities in Collier County, with a large number of migrant workers. When we arrived at the shelter, there were about 500 evacuees there.  They had generator power, no potable water, and three bathrooms for hundreds of residents and staff, and at the time no hot food. All the residents were calm and cooperative, thanks to the outstanding leadership from the shelter manager and support from diligent staff. There were no health clinics, pharmacies, or banks open in the community as all had been affected by the storm. The closest emergency medical services up and running were in Naples, 50 miles away.

Red Cross volunteers tried to bring a sense of calm to the residents: we gave them shelter and safety. Simply by seeing the Red Cross symbol, they put hope and trust in us. Every one of the volunteers did whatever it took to “get to yes” and inspired those around them to help one another under difficult circumstances. People often came up to say “thank you” for everything we were doing, which was an great tribute to the relief workers. For me, no amount of money means more to those who are privileged to serve as Red Cross volunteers.

Click here to learn more about the Red Cross response to hurricanes Irma and Maria. Click here to learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer.

Hurricane Harvey – Close Up

By David Schoeneck, American Red Cross Volunteer

As the winds, rain, and flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey last week pummeled Southeast Texas, first hundreds, then thousands of residents sought refuge at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. By Tuesday night, August 29, more than 9,400 people had sought shelter at the center, a mammoth 5-block long structure with five large halls covering over half a million square feet.

They came as individuals, as families, as extended families, as neighbors. Often with only the wet clothes on their back, they needed a safe, secure place to stay, dry clothes, a hot meal, and most of all, hope. And the Red Cross was there for them. Working closely with government partners such as the city, the county and the state, Red Cross shelter workers welcomed them in, helped them dry off, fed them a hot meal, and saw to their health needs and concerns.

Dave Schoeneck, Red Cross Volunteer

Where only a few days before, there was an empty cement floor, within 48 hours a village, then a town, then a city of over 10,000 residents sprang up. Neighborhoods developed. One hall was reserved for people with pets, another for families. People of many different heritages and backgrounds from all over Texas were united as survivors of a terrible natural tragedy. All entered this giant “lifeboat” mega-shelter knowing that they would now be safe and cared for.

The Red Cross rushed workers from across the nation to Houston, even before Harvey struck. By the end of the week, more than 2,700 trained disaster workers were on the ground, and another 800 were on the way, along with more than Red Cross 200 emergency relief vehicles. Over 37,000 people stayed in 270 Red Cross and partner shelters across Texas on Saturday.

At the George Brown Shelter, hundreds of local Houstonians reached out to help their neighbors. They sorted donated clothes, provided meals and food service, and rendered medical assistance. Boy Scout troops served up an oatmeal breakfast, and were introduced to folks who live outside of their middle-class neighborhoods.

Stories were shared of rescues by strangers from rising flood waters, as neighborhoods were suddenly inundated. Travel around the area was difficult, as major freeways were under water for several days. Sad stories were also shared of relatives who had tried to drive to safety, but were swept away by the floods. Red Cross Mental health and health services professionals have provided over 11,000 contacts to provide support and care for the evacuees.

Shelter for Hurricane Harvey evacuees

Journalists from all over the world rushed to cover the story, with TV crews based here sending stories and pictures back to networks in countries such as Germany, France, Belgium, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, and Denmark. In addition, all of the national networks, the local and regional television and radio stations, were well represented, as well as many Texas and national newspapers.

While squeezing nearly 10,000 people into one shelter isn’t optimal, everyone there was safe, out of the weather, and had access to hot food and medical assistance. Additional shelters opened up the next day and relieved pressure on the George R. Brown Convention Center shelter.

One survivor summed it all up. When told to make sure she held on to a certain document, as she slide it back into a large manila envelope, she simply said, “Don’t worry. My entire life is in this envelope.”

Back-to-school: 6 Pro Tips for Teachers and Students

Glenna Housman and her family. Photo courtesy of Housman family.

It’s officially that time of year again: back-to-school. We know many of you may be getting your little ones ready for their first day, or settling into the groove of things with classes back in session. It’s a chaotic week for families, students and staff. In an effort to help get your kids prepared and to help prepare teachers, we talked to some experts in education, namely Glenna Housman, a middle school nurse in Virginia.

“We know that when it’s time to get kids ready to come back to school, parents’ lives get a little hectic,” says Glenna. “Staff members tend to rely on parents to share a lot of information about their students, but I think it’s also very important for teachers and school administrators to take certain prep steps, too.”

Here are 6 tips for teachers and students alike to be Red Cross Ready as they embark on the new school year:

Get a Kit

  • Think about emergency preparedness items you don’t already have in your classroom. Some good supplies to have on hand are a flashlight and cell phone charger in case the power goes out. We tend to rely on our technology in times of crisis, especially to communicate.
  • Talk to your school nurse and ask for an extra batch of first aid items like gauze pads and bandages without latex (in case of allergies), for emergencies or if you can’t get to the nurse’s station right away.
  • Know which students have allergies and which ones do not. If you’re a parent, we suggest putting a supply kit together in your student’s backpack. If they have allergies or certain medical needs, be sure to have those things noted for the teacher. If you’re a teacher, have some snacks in your classroom that can be used for kids with allergies or diabetes. Some examples include non-peanut snacks, non-perishables, hard candy. Also be aware of allergies to things like grass or wood chips often found on playgrounds, in case a student has an allergic reaction at recess.

Make a Plan

  • Know where to go for emergencies like a tornado or fire in the cafeteria. Most schools have policies in place and practice drills regularly. If your school doesn’t have these policies already in play, talk to your administrators and staff about how to protect your students.
  • Don’t forget to update your child’s school health records. These records should be updated at the beginning of every school year. Any health care plans signed by the doctors are needed each fall for food allergies, inhalers, diabetics, sickle cell anemia, etc. so teachers and nurses are well-equipped to treat your kids.
  • Talk with your class about what to do in emergencies. Keeping the steps simple and easy to follow will help them remember when you practice.

Be Informed

  • While we hope your school year goes off without a hitch, we know it’s always best to be prepared for whatever may happen.
  • If you’re on top of emergency preparedness, then you’ll be teaching your students a good life skill and making their parents feel better while they’re under your care.
  • If it’s not already, your school could be a Red Cross shelter if disaster strikes. Learn more about how to make your facility a safe space with Red Cross Ready Rating.

This post was originally published on Red Cross Chat and is published on this blog with permission.