The American Red Cross in Central Pennsylvania

by: Christopher Olson, DO

Shortly after we moved to Lewisburg in 1987 someone suggested I might be available to the Union County chapter of the American Red Cross as their medical advisor. When asked I happily agreed. I had supported the Red Cross for years with blood donations and monetary contributions, so I was happy to make my medical knowledge available to them locally. After a few years of attending board meetings, as the local chapter was looking to expand the board I said, “I come to the meetings anyway, why not make me a board member.” I have been on the board or an advisor ever since. The organization has changed over the years and I am now part of the North Central Pennsylvania chapter which covers most of POMA District 6.

In the early years I had little responsibility other than approving medical guidelines for use in situations such as disaster shelters.

I started giving blood again as I slowed my busy medical practice. I’m not sure how many gallons I have donated, at least 3 or 4. I have also given presentations to community organizations about the Red Cross mission and services.

A few years ago, the ARC started an initiative to install smoke alarms in individual homes. Often this is done through one day campaigns in towns or cities, especially where there have been lots of fires. You may know that the most common “disaster” that the Red Cross responds to is a home fire. Local fire companies know to contact the local Red Cross chapter who send out volunteers to provide support to victims in the form of everything from emotional support to blankets and money for a hotel room and food. It seemed like a smart idea to try to save lives in as many fires as possible with early warnings from effective alarms. I personally have been part of a campaigns to install alarms in Jersey Shore and Shamokin. I have also installed alarms in homes of people who have let the local Red Cross chapter know they needed them. It is eye opening to help these people. Some have no alarms. Many have old (greater than 10 years) alarms and many have alarms with no battery or other power source.

One of my favorite installations was at the first house we were allowed to visit in Jersey Shore where a younger health aid met us at the door and informed us she was only there to help the elderly resident who was essentially chair bound in the day and bed bound at night. We also learned that she was deaf and did not wear her hearing aids at night when she was home alone. We were not only able to provide smoke alarms but arranged for a bed shaker that responds to an alarm by shaking the bed as violently as an earthquake. If this were to happen the resident could then use her medical alert device to get help from the local fire company who would know her situation.

It is important to note the Red Cross is primarily a volunteer organization. Services are only possible due to the generous efforts of volunteers as well as generous monetary donations. Thank you for letting me once again spread the word about this valuable organization. Don’t be misled by those who would denigrate this great organization with complaints about the CEO’s salary, etc. I don’t know of any other organization that can boast that 93 cents of every dollar contributed goes for services.