A Visit With The Red Cross Down Under

By Susan Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, Senior Advisor for Nursing with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Board Chair with the American Red Cross of Central New Jersey.blog photo1

Whenever I have the opportunity to travel, I make it a habit to visit other Red Cross chapters. It’s a fun thing to do, and I have met so many wonderful people around the world who are carrying out the same humanitarian mission that we are right here in Central New Jersey. 

So during my recent trip to Australia, I did just that when my husband Bob and I visited the Red Cross in Sydney and the Red Cross national headquarters in Melbourne. American Red Cross Chief Nurse Sharon Stanley, RN joined us during the visit in Melbourne. We met with Andrew Coghlan, national manager of Emergency Services and Mairead Doyle, coordinator of Emergency Services and swapped stories about respective Red Cross priorities.

We learned Australia’s disaster responses include ‘a few cyclones from time to time,’ but mostly bush fires and some occasional flooding. They, in turn, were astounded at how active we are with disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes and home fires in the U.S….and the large amount of volunteers we utilize. Thank goodness for all of our volunteers! 

The Australian Government takes the major role when it comes to sheltering people during disaster response and do not utilize nurses in the same way or in the big numbers as we do in the U.S. As a nurse myself, I thought that was really too bad. I’ve witnessed the benefits of having nurses on-hand and feel we really add great value to preparedness, response and recovery. The Aussies do, however, pay a great deal of attention, as we do, to the mental health needs of those affected by disasters. 

blog photo2I found it interesting that the Australian Red Cross provides 100% of all blood products and services in the country. They also organize all their classes, including health and safety classes within something they call the “Red Cross College,” which is all very organized and standardized. Finally, they have membership drives where they ask people to “join” the Red Cross for just $20, the cost is $10 for students. When I asked Andrew about this, he stated it was a nice way to engage lots of people, but that they really still had to depend primarily on large corporate and individual donors for more basic and substantial support. Fundraising is a constant need there as it is here with us.

Even if you never get a chance to visit Australia (27 hours of flying time to get there!) I would encourage you to stop in and visit Red Cross chapters in different parts of our country or around the world as you travel. You will truly see that we are all ONE RED CROSS, which is really so reassuring to know that no matter where we go, the services of this wonderful organization are always available.

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