By David HoyeAmerican Red Cross Blog Volunteer
Kurt Kroemer, American Red Cross Regional CEO, keeps a large part of it all running. Well, Kroemer and several hundred hard-working employees and several thousand loyal and dedicated volunteers. The 13-year Red Cross veteran directs operations across the organization’s Arizona – New Mexico Region, a sprawling swath of the southwestern U.S. combined, the two states provide Kroemer and his team with the task of serving nearly 9.5 million people.
Kroemer took time recently to ensure Red Cross paid and volunteer staff, as well as the general public, knows that, despite the coronavirus, the organization continues providing essential emergency assistance, disaster relief, and other services that folks in Arizona, New Mexico and the rest of the world have come to depend upon.
Despite working from home, the Red Cross continues responding to emergencies such as home fires, wildfires, highway disasters, floods … you name it. Across the entire organization, the Red Cross handles more than 60,000 disasters annually – about 90 percent of which are home fires.
“We’re still doing the same thing that we’ve always done,” he said recently while working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Pretty much everybody is working from home except those conducting CPR classes or the biomedical staff that’s still out collecting blood.”And all that work continues amid a revamped and streamlined Red Cross.
A long-anticipated national realignment, which was recently completed but unrelated to the pandemic, saw the Red Cross move to 50 regions, down from 64. The largest change locally involved El Paso, Texas. Once part of the Arizona – New Mexico region due to its proximity to both, El Paso is now part of a region that includes the entire state of Texas.
The Arizona – New Mexico Region features three subdivisions: the Central and Northern Arizona chapter based in Phoenix, the Southern Arizona chapter-based in Tucson and a New Mexico chapter based in Albuquerque.
Kroemer said the realignment did involve reducing a small number of positions but the primary goal was streamlining to make the organization more efficient and improve the speed of services when disasters strike.
For example, he said, the Red Cross keeps repositories of vital supplies at strategic locations across the country. The realignment of regions helped ensure the most productive use of such stockpiles, especially during disasters when a fast response time can save lives.
“This wasn’t a cost-cutting move,” Kroemer said, “The main takeaway is that the services we provide are all still there. Nothing changed. And, whoever you were working for, whether a staff member or volunteer, for most people it stayed the same.”
As for volunteers, he added, “You’ll still be able to do what you did before. You’ll still be able to do whatever it was that you wanted to do when you first joined the Red Cross.”
The realignment aside, there have been some changes within the organization due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The new normal for employees and volunteers includes following the work-from-home directive whenever possible. And that has resulted in Red Cross staffers ramping up their use of technology. A variety of online tools are used to hold virtual meetings and maintain workflow.
Additionally, the Red Cross has instituted safety precautions. Wherever needed, Red Cross workers who venture out into the communities they serve are issued personal protective equipment such as face masks.
Kroemer said the Red Cross will be ramping up a screening process over the next few weeks to ensure staff, volunteers, blood donors or anyone else served by the organization is safe and protected from the potential spread of the coronavirus.
The process, he said, will include taking peoples’ temperatures and asking questions such as whether they have had recent contact with anyone who has COVID-19.
“This will be a rolling thing over the next few weeks,” Kroemer said. “If you come to our offices in the next few weeks you’re going to be screened. There will be procedures in place and a process for us to take temperatures and ask a series of six questions.”
The process will have to be repeated each day, but only once. Employees, volunteers and visitors who pass the screening process will be given special identification stickers. Kroemer said the screening will only be done once, allowing screened people to leave the office for lunch or other reasons and then return the same day without having to be screened again.
And, in case anyone is wondering, there are no plans to include any type of COVID-19-related testing.
Kroemer said he and other Red Cross administrators across the country are all committed to protecting staff, volunteers and the public while maintaining adherence with any additional directives from local, county, state or federal government.
“Our number one priority right now is taking care of our people,” Kroemer said. “We’re making sure we’re executing on our goals and making sure we have a culture where people feel valued and feel like they’re contributing something worthwhile.”
The next weeks and months will mean more of the same unless the pandemic situation changes, Kroemer said. For example, if the government should alter rules for sheltering in place and staying at home, the Red Cross would respond accordingly and continue with its mission.
“We’ll continue to follow the guidelines put forth by local and federal officials,” he said. “It’s what we’ve really been doing, pulling together. And I’m incredibly appreciative and thankful for our staff and volunteers. It really says a lot about people.”