Despite staff cuts, Red Cross says services intact

Several board members have resigned and, from a local standpoint, it seems the Southwest Louisiana American Red Cross has undergone a major shake-up.

In August,  the agency announced it was consolidating administration functions with others in the state.  The executive director was let go though, all the while, officials have said this area would not be left without services.

But,   those now running the SWLA Red Cross say they are bolstering services.  "Despite the holiday timeframe, the American Red Cross has been quite busy in Southwest Louisiana: serving more disaster clients, hiring a response and readiness coordinator, formalizing an agreement with the Medical Reserve Corp of Calcasieu Parish and searching for a new statewide scheduler for the Red Cross health and safety team who will be based in Lake Charles," said officials in their request for news coverage.

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Here is the news release issued by the SWLA Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; 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 mission. For more information, please visit or join our blog at

About the American Red Cross:

LAKE CHARLES, Nov. 29, 2011 — A new readiness and response coordinator has joined the team, a new health and safety scheduler will be hired soon and people needing assistance after disasters have been receiving more aid than before.

Brian Burton, chair of the board of directors, introduced today at a press conference Philmer "Joe" Johnson as the disaster readiness and response coordinator in Lake Charles. Johnson is a native of southwest Louisiana, where he graduated from Westlake High School, attended the National EMS Academy and LSU Fire Academy.

Johnson brings to the American Red Cross more than six years of experience in emergency medical services, working with paid and volunteer fire departments in the area. He also has been active as a volunteer with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, where he serves as flotilla commander.

"We are very excited to have someone from southwest Louisiana as the new coordinator," Burton said. "Joe's experience and background working with EMS, FEMA, Haz/Mat, the U.S. Coast Guard and our local firefighters have given him the skills necessary to ensure timely emergency assistance for those affected by disasters in our community."

In his new role, Johnson will coordinate the response of disaster relief volunteers (including after residential fires and large-scale events such as hurricanes), recruit and train them. He also will monitor Services to the Armed Forces to make sure that family and service members' needs have been met.

While the Red Cross recruited the new coordinator, Neal Hardin has spent the past two months in Lake Charles, working with Red Cross volunteers, fire departments and parish leaders to ensure that service to disaster victims continued uninterrupted. As the regional readiness and response manager, Hardin will continue to regularly work in Lake Charles, orienting the new coordinator and helping advance the qualifications of local volunteers.

Within the health and safety department, which has been reorganized to provide consistency in product and delivery nationwide, employees have specialized expertise and now service a wider geographic area. A new department scheduler for all of Louisiana will be based in Lake Charles and hired in the next few weeks. The position makes arrangements for the health and safety courses – coordinating among instructors, sales staff, customers and locations.

Over the past several months, staff and volunteers have responded to dozens of disasters, providing a helping hand to those needing immediate aid. Most were devastated after fires destroyed their homes. Based on their individual need, the Red Cross provided assistance for shelter, food, clothing, replacement medication and more. In fact, direct financial assistance to disaster clients has increased 62 percent year to date when compared to the same timeframe in 2010. Administrative efficiencies have allowed the Red Cross to implement a program of financial assistance that is not directly tied to the community's ability to raise the funds.

These changes have benefited southwest Louisiana the past few months and will continue to strengthen the community as resources, skills and manpower build. As always, additional volunteers are needed. Please visit for more information on the Red Cross and how to start as a volunteer.