Narelle Austen said she would miss the Red Cross service at the hospital if it was stopped.
Narelle Austen said she would miss the Red Cross service at the hospital if it was stopped.

Red Cross betrays volunteers

Janice Henry and Sadie Francks are volunteers and members of the Tabulam branch of the Red Cross. For the past two years they have been making the trek to Richmond Lodge Aged Care facility in Casino, visiting residents and giving hand and feet massages and manicures.

It’s a little bit of personal human contact that aims to make residents’ days a little brighter.

Toward the end of last year, Richmond Lodge received a letter from the Red Cross asking for a donation of $500 towards materials for the volunteer program.

Not wanting to upset the applecart or offend the caring volunteers, Richmond Lodge paid the money.

When Janice and Sadie found out they were appalled.

“We had no idea head office had sent such a letter – I really think of it as a bill – and we added up the money spent per year on cotton wool and moisturiser and it came to less than $50,” Janice said.

Welcome to the Red Cross of the 21st Century.

More than 70 local members from the 22 local Red Cross branches met at the Presbyterian Hall in Lismore on Monday, at a meeting convened by Lismore MP Thomas George, to see what they could do about the imminent closure of the Regional Office in Lismore and apparent relocation to Kempsey (Red Cross to close office, Echo, May 13).

Mr George invited Red Cross NSW executive director Lewis Kaplan and Red Cross Australia CEO Robert Tickner to the meeting but they declined. Mr Kaplan will attend a meeting at the Lismore office on June 7, after the proposed closure date of May 28.

Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell was also at the meeting on Monday and has been lobbying Red Cross Australia CEO Robert Tickner not to close the Lismore office.

“For them to claim that they are still a volunteer-run organisation is just empty words,” Mayor Dowell said. “I saw the tears in those women’s eyes and heard the emotion in their voices. They feel betrayed and the community feels betrayed.

“I know the role the Red Cross plays every day and in times of crisis, like floods, and for someone in a distant place to make a decision about what’s right in our community is just wrong.

“Red Cross will suffer if they do this; people will say I’m not willing to bake cakes, or make clothes or work in the tea rooms for an organisation that doesn’t care about me or my community. It’s sad for the volunteers themselves, whose lives revolve around their community service and who are very proud to be lifelong volunteers – it’s taking away part of their identity.

“I’d love to think this decision can be reversed. I’m not prepared to give up on it yet.”

At Monday’s meeting, distraught volunteers got to their feet and spoke about how they felt side-lined, ignored, and mistreated by the head and state offices of the charitable organisation they had dedicated their volunteering lives to.

“We raised the funds for the building (in Keen St) by baking cakes, holding bridge nights and functions. It doesn’t seem fair to work so hard and have it taken away from us,” a volunteer by the name of Betty said.

Anne Bolan, Dianne Evans and Janet Edwards volunteer for the Hands On program, where they spend one morning a week at Lismore Base Hospital, giving patients hand and feet massages.

“It’s a means of giving something back to the community and to help those that are perhaps less fortunate than myself, we all do it because we like to help others,” Anne said. “Head office has been very unethical, they have not given prior warning of the closure of the Lismore branch. The volunteers are the last to hear, it’s absolutely disgusting – they need to come and see the sort of work we do in our area.”

Anne said if the Lismore office was closed the Hands On program would just not work.

“We would have nobody to relate to, nobody to hand our statistics into if the office was in Kempsey. Some people seem to think Kempsey is a suburb of Lismore, it just won’t work,” she said. “If Red Cross pulls out of Lismore then the girls who I work with are going to negotiate with another source so the service can continue but it won’t be under Red Cross.

“Those patients who have heard about the closure and staff members at the hospital are absolutely appalled at the possible move.”

Narelle Austen, from Goonellabah, goes to LBH three days a week for dialysis and appreciates the Hands On service.

“They massage our feet with oils and have a bit of a natter,” Narelle said. “The ladies are all lovely and it’s very relaxing – I feel really good afterwards...If they cut it out we’d miss it.”

At Monday’s meeting members unanimously passed a motion of dissent in Red Cross Australia CEO Robert Tickner, saying that they believed the action of closing the Lismore Regional Offices and the subsequent dismissal of staff is not in keeping with the fundamental principle of the International Red Cross.

Thomas George wrote to Mr Kaplan on behalf of members, demanding that the Regional Office in Lismore be kept open at least until the Kempsey office is officially opened. He also wants any money from sales of land and or assets from within this region be retained in the community for Red Cross members to decide the allocation of the funds.

Page MP Janelle Saffin was unable to attend Monday’s meeting because parliament was sitting but has also added her voice to the campaign to save the Lismore Office.

“I am dismayed at the way this change appears to have been handled by management. From all reports it came as a bolt out of the blue, stunning staff and the army of willing volunteers,” Ms Saffin said in a letter. “In January I opened an historic exhibition of Red Cross memorabilia, Our Life Blood, hosted by the Alstonville Plateau Historical Society. Among those at the exhibition were three remarkable local women who had each given more than 70 years service to the Red Cross.

“I spoke in honour of these women in Parliament earlier this year: Helen Wynd who gave the Red Cross 71 years continuous service, Pat Steeles, who gave 73 years continuous service; and Elsie Johnston who gave 71 years continuous service.

Our region is the richer for their efforts and that of so many others.”

Mr Kaplan was apparently unable to take calls but a spokesperson from the Red Cross media unit said there was “nothing further to be said on the Lismore situation” but a statement would be released some time in the next few days after our deadline.

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