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American Red Cross reorganization means transfer of services to other local organizations

By Patrick Donges


Pittsfield, MA – The Berkshire County Red Cross, along with other chapters across the country, will seek to reallocate resources to focus on the national organization's core programs; disaster relief, biomedical and blood services, aid for armed forces and health and safety training.

For the Berkshires, this means four other programs, including non-emergency medical transportation and HIV and AIDS services, will be cut by the chapter and transferred to other local organizations.

Kate Leene is director of the Berkshire County Red Cross.

"Our ideal goal is to make sure that this does happen and is transferred from our organization to local organizations without a stop of service. We're trying very diligently to make sure that that does happen."

Leene said that while many of those who work in the four programs slated for transfer are volunteers, less than ten total full-time and part-time staff positions may be affected by the changes.

Lisa Piehler, regional CEO of the Red Cross of Central and Western Massachusetts, said the transfers are part of a regionalization plan being undertaken by non-profits across the country in the wake of the recession. But unlike other organizations, the Red Cross is bound to maintain certain programs under federal law.

"Two of our core programs, disaster relief and service to military families, are programs that the American Red Cross is mandated by Congressional charter to provide to the American public."

Piehler said the fiscal crunch and serious international and domestic disasters, including extreme weather in the southern and Midwest states this year, have forced the organization to determine how to best deliver those services they cannot discontinue.

"To keep that efficiency we have needed to tighten our belt and concentrate on core programs."

"We are working very hard to find partners and agencies who are providing similar services and are a good match to provide these programs and services to the clients in Berkshire County."

While Piehler said the transfers would ideally be completed by the end of the organization's fiscal year on June 30 and with no disruption of service, other local non-profits are unsure if that plan is possible

Arthur Piesner is chairman of the board of trustees of Volunteers in Medicine, a Great Barrington based free clinic serving the uninsured and those who do not qualify for Medicaid.

"I don't know of any other local organization that is capable of providing this service. There's nobody with the vans, the drivers, the things that it takes."

The Red Cross has been transporting clients at the clinic to appointments in Worcester, the only place they can receive some services. Piesner said clients are typically asked for a $50 donation per trip, a price he said would be subject to change under new management.

Jana Hunkler Brule is the project manager of Berkshire Rides, which provides shared ride and public transportation information to county residents.

"In north (Berkshire) county the transition from Red Cross to another agency will be very difficult because the Red Cross model relies on volunteers and in north (Berkshire) county where things are very rural it's sometimes very difficult to get volunteer drivers that can drive that distance."

Piehler did not comment directly on the status of the transition to this point, saying only that she was hopeful the services would be transferred by June 30.