Minnesota nurse receives highest international Red Cross award

This year, our own Janice Springer is among the selected recipients of the prestigious Florence Nightingale Medal. This honor from the International Committee of the Red Cross is the highest international distinction a nurse can receive.

Janice Springer, DNP, RN, PHN, received this prestigious recognition for extraordinary service in disaster situations and in public health and nursing education.

Dr. Springer co-authored the American Red Cross Disaster Health and Sheltering course, used to teach more than 18,000 nursing students nationwide how to serve as Disaster Health Services volunteers. Students who complete the course may go on to become official Red Cross nurses after graduation, expanding the pool of prepared Disaster Health Services volunteers. She also created the evidence-based Cot-to-Cot© model to assist clients with functional and access needs in American Red Cross shelters.

Dr. Springer is a Red Cross volunteer who has deployed to 15 disaster relief operations since 2005, often as a leader. Having held several Red Cross leadership roles within Disaster Cycle Services and the International Services Department, she is currently serving as Volunteer Partner for International Recovery, expanding her public health nursing expertise internationally.

Dr. Springer serves as a disaster public health and disability integration subject matter expert for the North American Humanitarian Response Summit, a coalition of U.S. and international government and humanitarian response organizations, helping plan for international cross-border catastrophic disasters. She has published extensively in nursing textbooks and professional journals and has presented papers and posters on her research and best practices throughout the world.

Dr. Springer’s contributions to public health nursing, disaster nursing and the Red Cross are exceptional. The effects of her dedication, leadership and work will continue to spread their positive impact on Red Cross nursing and support individuals affected by disasters around the world.

Click here for more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer.

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.

Red Cross needs health professionals

The American Red Cross relies on more than 20,000 nurses and other health professionals who bring our mission to life each day. If you’re a nurse, nursing student or other health professional, we need your help! There are volunteer opportunities in direct service, leadership and behind-the-scenes.  A few examples are:

 • Disaster Health Services –team members and leaders

• Disaster Mental Health Services –team members and leaders

• Pillowcase Project Instructor (educating 3rd-5th graders about disasters)

• Blood Donor Ambassador Leader

• Nursing Network Regional Nurse Leaders and team members

• Service to the Armed Forces Hero Care Case Management

We hope that you consider volunteering with the Red Cross – you can have a meaningful impact by serving individuals and communities.

Get started here.

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.

Vonnie Thomas, a courageous Red Cross volunteer for 65 years

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Vonnie Thomas on her official day, June 28, 2016. Photo: Lara Leimbach

June 28, 2016 was officially Vonnie Thomas Day in Minnesota after Governor Mark Dayton proclaimed it so in honor of Ms. Thomas’s sixty-five years of courageous Red Cross volunteer service. Read the proclamation below to learn about this remarkable woman and how she has helped and inspired many people in many ways. 

State of Minnesota Proclamation for Vonnie Thomas

Whereas, the American Red Cross depends on the power of volunteers to accomplish its mission of preventing and alleviating suffering; and

Whereas, Nurse Vonnie Thomas has generously volunteered thousands of hours in distinguished leadership service through the American Red Cross over the past 65 years; and

Whereas, she courageously cared for those hurt by more than 40 local, national and international disasters such as the 2012 tornadoes in Minneapolis, the September 11 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, Hurricane Katrina and the 35-W Bridge Collapse; and

Whereas, she has served in many roles on a local, division and national level and is currently a member of the Minnesota Region volunteer leadership team and Disaster Health Services lead and a Staff Wellness Consultant for 13 states;  and

Whereas, she is an exceptional leader, innovator, medical professional, skilled instructor, and humanitarian and mentor, and is beloved by staff and volunteers alike; and

Whereas, she is a vibrant, engaged and active volunteer leading a statewide effort to build Integrated Care Teams in Minnesota to help families who’ve lost a loved one, and greatly contributed to the  development and implementation of the training materials; and

Whereas, her tremendous voluntary service has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Florence Nightingale Medal, the highest international honor awarded by the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, which celebrates the contributions of nurses and nursing aides to the work of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement;  and

Whereas, she finds inspiration in the words of the founder of the American Red Cross, Nurse Clara Barton: “You must never so much think as whether you like it or not, whether it is bearable or not; you must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it.”; and

Whereas, she embodies the principles and spirit of the Red Cross and is a wonderful example of unselfish, humble and dedicated service, and an inspiration for us all;

Now, therefore, I, Mark Dayton, Governor of Minnesota, do hereby proclaim June 28, 2016 Vonnie Thomas Day in the State of Minnesota.

She is an example to us all

October 28, 2015. Washington, DC. Annual Leadership Awards Reception and Dinner 2015. Florence Nightingale Medal winner: Vonnie Thomas Photo by Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross
Florence Nightingale Medal winner Vonnie Thomas (center) received her award on October 28, 2015, in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross.

On October 28, at American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C., Vonnie Thomas received a 2015 Florence Nightingale Medal, which is the highest international honor for nursing contributions to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and humanitarian action around the globe. The medal is awarded by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) every other year. It’s given to nurses or nursing aides who have shown exceptional courage or exemplary service during times of peace or war. In other words, this medal is a big deal. And we’re over the moon that Vonnie Thomas, a Red Cross volunteer for more than 65 years, was among this year’s honorees.

The Florence Nightingale Medal is awarded by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The Florence Nightingale Medal is awarded by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Vonnie cares for those who have been hurt by disasters as well as the people providing relief. She serves side-by-side with others in the midst of tragedies such as the north Minneapolis tornado, the September 11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and the 35-W bridge collapse on the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. Or to a woman whose husband died when their farm house burned down in Wisconsin. Vonnie is a leader, innovator, health professional, and humanitarian. She has cared for thousands of people during her decades of Red Cross volunteer service. Vonnie is a selfless leader who is dedicated to the Red Cross mission to alleviate human suffering during the toughest of times. She is a coach, mentor and champion for other nurses. She is an example for us all.

Congratulations to you, Vonnie, for receiving this well-deserved recognition. Your humility has a place in the work that you do, but today we ask that you put it aside as we tip our hats in great honor to the amazing woman that you are to many, to us.

What does a Red Cross nurse do during disaster?

Story and photos by Vivi Engen, American Red Cross Intern, Minnesota Region

The Disaster Health Services Nursing kit is condensed into one duffle bag and can serve up to 50 people at a shelter.
The Disaster Health Services Nursing kit is condensed into one duffle bag and can serve up to 50 people at a shelter.

During large-scale disasters, Red Cross nurses serve as the initial medical response at a shelter. They assess basic medical needs of clients and address quick and easy fixes, such as a cut or sprain. Anything more severe is treated at a hospital.

To speed nursing response during disaster, the Disaster Health Services team in Minnesota recently introduced a nursing kit that will be used at shelters during responses across the state.

The kit, which is condensed inside a single duffle bag, provides a quick-response supply for up to 50 individuals. Supplies include over-the-counter medication, wound dressings, CPR masks, bandages, protective gear and more.

Kami Buccellato goes through the supplies inside the Nursing Kit.
Kami Buccellato goes through the supplies inside the Nursing Kit.

“The kit provides the nursing staff with the materials needed to serve as a starting point for clients,” says Kami Buccellato, the Twin Cities Deputy Lead for Disaster Health Services and one of the creators of the nursing kit. “It’s still a work in progress, but we have already seen good results.”

Earlier this year, the kit was used for the first time at a shelter after an apartment fire. Disaster Health Services received positive feedback on the condensed bag and was happy to report that the kit contained its critical response supplies.

The idea for a nursing kit surfaced when responders showed up to shelters with duplicated supplies. “Duplicated supplies decreases efficiency,” says Buccellato. “In a disaster setting, everything is already chaotic, so anything that we can do to increase organization helps.”

A look at the contents inside the Nursing Kit.
A look at the contents inside the Nursing Kit.

The American Red Cross is always looking for new nurses who are ready to be put on the disaster scene. “Any nurse looking to gain experience, meet new people, and share knowledge is welcome in Disaster Health Services,” says Buccellato.

Are you a nurse? Have you ever thought about volunteering? If so, the Red Cross wants you. To apply, click here.

About the American Red Cross
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation’s blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. The Minnesota Region serves 5.2 million people across Minnesota and part of western Wisconsin with offices in Duluth, Mankato, Minneapolis, Rochester and St. Cloud. For more information, please visit redcross.org/mn.  Like us on Facebook: American Red Cross Minnesota Region. Follow us on Twitter: @mnredcross

Volunteer Spotlight: Barb Page and Disaster Health Services

Teaching a CPR class,
Leading or supporting committee work,
Being on-call to assist with small disasters,
Helping in a shelter on larger disaster responses,
Reviewing health forms for the staff and volunteer workforce,
Speaking to nursing students about volunteer opportunities at the Red Cross…

Linked in photo small jpeg Barb PageThere are many ways for those in the medical field to share their time and talents with American Red Cross Humanitarian Services. One nurse doing just that is Barb Page. Barb is celebrating her five-year anniversary with the Red Cross and is nearing the end of her second year as Disaster Health Services (DHS) Lead for the Twin Cities Area Chapter. For Barb, volunteering as a nurse for the American Red Cross is about compassion and community.

COMPASSION
As a DHS volunteer, Barb has enjoyed sharing her gift of compassion with clients when called upon to assist during disaster response.

Asked why nurses have always played such an important role for the Red Cross, Barb replied, “Everybody at the Red Cross has a lot of care and compassion, but I think it’s just innate for nurses, and that comes through in our work and is an important piece of recovery. We are a big part of getting people back on their feet.”

DHS volunteers are able to offer both practical assistance and emotional support to clients in their times of need. “When someone has lost everything or has been hurt because of a disaster, they need help in so many ways. They need help navigating how to get their life back together,” Barb explained. “In almost every disaster response, there is someone with medication or someone with medical needs who needs help.” With DHS volunteers like Barb standing at the ready to share not just her professional skills but also her caring spirit, the Red Cross is able to more completely meet the needs of clients.

COMMUNITY
As DHS Lead for the Twin Cities Area Chapter, Barb has enjoyed fostering a sense of community among the DHS volunteer team.

In the beginning of Barb’s tenure, Barb focused on understanding what interested and motivated different volunteers in order to best engage them in ways they would find satisfying. As Barb described, with the variety of activities there is to participate in at the Red Cross, “We need all kinds of people with all kinds of interests.” Barb’s inclusive message is that anyone can find a way to contribute at the Red Cross that will be fulfilling and that will fit his/her unique schedule and strengths.

BarbBarb is now focusing her time as Twin Cities Area DHS Lead on maintaining a mentorship program and four committees centered on sheltering, national deployment, welcoming new volunteers, and external recruitment and education. The mentorship program has helped more than a handful of new volunteer nurses become acquainted and comfortable with responding to local disasters over the past year. Choua Yang, Regional Recovery Program Support Specialist, explained the impact Barb is having locally: “She is a great leader for the DHS group. The mentorship program helps new volunteers navigate the Red Cross and brings them into the DHS community.”

In addition, the more recently established committees are creating new ways for DHS volunteers to get involved and get to know each other, all the while making the Red Cross well positioned and prepared to take action when called upon.

Thinking holistically, as nurses so often do, Barb stated, “You never know if the client you just helped is going to become a volunteer or a donor or help out at the next disaster. It’s a circle.”  The Red Cross community is a growing, more encompassing circle because of wonderful volunteers like Barb. Thank you, Barb!

Story by Kelly Clark, Volunteer Services, American Red Cross Minnesota Region. If you or someone you know would be interested in joining this compassionate community of Disaster Health Services volunteers in Minnesota, please contact Volunteer Services.

Practice Makes Prepared for Red Cross NAT Students

Our Nurse Assistant Training students are buzzing around the American Red Cross Twin Cities Area Chapter these days demonstrating their skills before clinical practice. There’s a ton-o-stuff they need to have down so that their future patients will be well cared for!Click here to learn more about our Nurse Assistant Training (NAT) program and the upcoming class schedule.