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Red Cross Workers Provide Health and Emotional Support

...if you help a staff member remain efficient and effective, then you have helped perhaps 150 shelter occupants.

When disasters like Superstorm Sandy strike and people are forced out of their homes, they have obvious needs like food and shelter. But equally important is the fact that some people have emotional needs or medical conditions that need attention. Since Sandy made landfall, American Red Cross workers have provided more than 34,600 health and emotional support contacts to people impacted by the storm.

HEALTH SERVICES Red Cross Health Services workers have been helping people affected by Sandy since the relief response began. They make calls to pharmacies and physicians to help people replace lost items like prescription medications, medical equipment and eyeglasses which are often left behind and destroyed.

They also can help identify conditions that may develop as people focus on other issues, not their daily medical needs. Kristine Messitt is a registered nurse from Chicago also helping in Farmingville. “Often the trained eye of the Red Cross nurse can identify a symptom that needs immediate medical attention,” she said. “It is very rewarding to identify and treat medical needs people often didn‘t know they had.”

MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES The Red Cross recognizes that people impacted by the disaster may be anxious, some may be depressed or agitated at their situation. That is why the Red Cross disaster relief operation includes licensed mental health specialists to help people cope with their new reality. Disaster workers in Red Cross shelters are trained in psychological first aid, but Red Cross mental health teams go a step farther and monitor the emotional pulse of those in the shelter – residents and workers.

Roy Burnham is a medical social worker who has been helping people at the Red Cross shelter in Farmingville, New York. “If you help an occupant adjust to the losses she or he has sustained, you have provided important help to one person,” he said. “And if you help a staff member remain efficient and effective, then you have helped perhaps 150 shelter occupants.”

STEPS TO HELP COPE After a disaster, people may experience a variety of difficult feelings and thoughts. Fear concerning safety for themselves and their family – anger, confusion, shock, disbelief, sadness and grief – these are all normal feelings associated with the experience of the disaster.

Reactions like these may appear in different ways, not only in the way someone feels, but in the way they think and what they think about; their sleeping habits, how they go about daily living; and the way they interact and get along with others. Children and the elderly are especially at risk and require special attention. Here are a few tips to help cope for those affected by the storm:

  • Limit exposure to the sights and sounds of the disaster
  • Focus on the positive
  • Reach out and accept help from others
  • Do things you enjoy with your family
  • Stay connected with your family and other support systems
  • Be patient
  • Get back to a daily routine
  • For children:
  • allowthem to feel upset and encourage them to express their feelings and thoughts
  • Return to a daily routine as much as possible
  • HOW TO HELP The Red Cross response to Sandy is massive and growing by the day. To date the Red Cross has provided thousands of shelter stays, served millions of meals and snacks, distributed thousands of relief items and helped thousands with health and emotional support. If someone would like to help, they can make a financial donations by visiting, calling call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting the word REDCROSS (all one word) to 90999 to make a $10 donation

    Photo caption: Red Cross Nurse Lucy Perna checks blood pressure for Mary Hakes of Absecon, N.J.

    Photo by Les Stone/American Red Cross

    Tags: Sandy.
    About the American Red Cross:
    The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.