Red Cross merges chapters, cuts staff

From the left, Mary Rose,  Erika Miller,  Brian Geer,  Linda Seger and Kim Cottrell gather at the announcement of the merger. - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
From the left, Mary Rose, Erika Miller, Brian Geer, Linda Seger and Kim Cottrell gather at the announcement of the merger.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

The American Red Cross is synonymous with care, compassion and perseverance, but today’s economy has put those qualities to the test with a decline in contributions and increasing need.

“It’s a new day to serve our islands,” Erika Miller, Island County Red Cross board chair, said at an afternoon press conference to announce the official merger of the Island County and Anacortes/San Juan Islands Red Cross chapters.

As of Monday, Feb. 1, they are united as the American Red Cross, Islands Chapter.

The reason is simple. Tough economic times and diminishing contributions led to this very difficult decision, she said.

“It was a difficult but necessary decision to merge the two chapters,” Miller said. The merger does not mean less service to the community, she said. “There’ll be very few changes if any at all. You may see bigger and better things.”

The merger means the loss of two employee positions and a reduction in the Oak Harbor office’s open hours by nearly one-third.

“We have had some hard discussions,” said Linda Seger, the Anacortes Red Cross board chair. “Our choice was clear and inescapable.”

Seger remains optimistic about the change. “Our announcement should come as welcome news to the community, she said.

“This allows us to make more efficient use of our donor funds. With this merge we can effectively pool our resources and not compete,” she said of the two chapter locations that are very close in proximity.

Islands Chapter Executive Director Brian Geer said there will always be a Red Cross presence in Oak Harbor, although Anacortes is now the main office. In fact, Geer hopes to open a part-time office in Langley and Clinton for better visibility on the South End.

As a result of the merge, there will be some shifts in office hours, staff and volunteers duties, and in protocol.

“Some staff reductions and realignments are necessary,” he said. “Without the merger there would have been more cuts.”

The organization’s ability to organize volunteers, give aid and dole out supplies will not change.

“Service delivery is our bread and butter,” Geer said. ”We are still 258 volunteers strong, have 65 instructors willing to teach, and the capacity to immediately house 350 people in the event of a major disaster.”

The United States Navy and American Red Cross have a long history, Geer said. That partnership will not waiver.

The two will remain “tied together at the hip,” said Executive Officer Cmdr. Matt Miller.

Every deployed service member and their families attend a pre-deployment briefing on base, where they learn how to communicate important family happenings while their spouse is on deployment, he said. The Red Cross is an important part of that communication process.

Miller said this decision makes sense on a local level since many Navy families make their home in Anacortes in addition to Oak Harbor, Coupeville and beyond.

The Red Cross made about 2,000 emergency communications for the armed services last year, including news of family illness, deaths and births.

“That’s about one communication every four hours all year,” Geer said.

The Oak Harbor office will stay open, with reduced hours, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The Anacortes office will be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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