Cathie Anderson

Sacramento-area Red Cross adds training for nursing assistants

Gary Strong
Gary Strong Sacramento Bee file

This column has been rewritten to correct information that appeared in the previous version.

The American Red Cross Gold Country Region recently added a program to train and certify nursing assistants in as little as six weeks, a launching pad that could put graduates on the path to one day earning more than $36,170 annually.

That’s what the top 10 percent of nursing assistants have reported earning, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. Pay varies depending on experience, education, work location and the size of the employer.

The local Red Cross already trains individuals in lifeguarding, baby-sitting, CPR and first aid, said Gary Strong, the new CEO of the Gold Country region. Courses are offered at the nonprofit’s headquarters on Exposition Boulevard in Sacramento and in field offices and community gathering places inland from as far south as Tuolumne and Stanislaus counties and north all the way to the Oregon border. It is one of six Red Cross territories in California.

Strong assumed leadership of this division in September 2015 after nearly 10 years as senior vice president for finance at The Sacramento Bee. The 54-year-old Granite Bay resident was well-prepared to run a Red Cross territory, having served on the boards of two Red Cross groups for 18 years.

He told me that the Gold Country territory’s budget is subsidized by the national headquarters but that he and other staff are going out to tell the Red Cross story to foundations, corporations and individuals in an effort to increase donations and sponsorships.

“Everybody thinks of the Red Cross based upon how they interact with it or think about it,” Strong said. “There are a bunch of people out there that think the Red Cross just deals with big disasters – earthquakes and wildfires, that sort of thing. A bunch of people think that all they do is blood. … There are a lot of facets to Red Cross that you don’t find out until you join the organization.”

Outside the Sacramento region, Red Cross does indeed supply and manage 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply. When major tragedy strikes, people all over the world funnel money to the organization to assist.

But what many people are often surprised to learn, Strong said, is that the Red Cross responds every day to individual house fires in the Gold Country territory and nationwide. He said the organization also stands ready to assist members of the armed forces and their families with counseling at enlistment, before and during deployment, and before and after discharge.

“If a member of the military service is overseas and someone becomes deathly ill at home, the Red Cross is the organization set up to go and verify the illness at home and then communicate directly with the folks overseas in your command to determine whether or not you need to be brought home to deal with that,” Strong said. “It could be a case where there is radio silence. No one can communicate anything to that organization, but the Red Cross code comes through and that call always gets answered, usually within a couple of hours.”

The organization trains volunteers to deal with the myriad questions that military personnel and families will have, Strong said. In fact, Red Cross volunteers go through a background check and training before they can provide any type of service, so volunteers can’t just sign up amid a disaster.

Right now, volunteers in the Gold Country region are walking around neighborhoods to ask people whether they have working smoke alarms. They recently visited Oak Park and the Del Paso Heights neighborhoods in Sacramento, Strong said.

“Every eight hours in our region, someone is affected by a localized emergency like a home fire,” he said. “We have volunteers all over the community who respond. … That’s why it is important to get the word out about what we do because, when there’s a large-scale disaster, people will send money in like there’s no tomorrow. They don’t realize that every single day, we’re out there.”

Right now, he said, PG&E is funding Red Cross territories all around California to pay for new smoke alarms. In this region, Strong is shooting to install units in 2,500 homes, and if they have a smoke alarm but a dead battery, volunteers change out the battery to get the unit working. Since the program began nationally just a little over a year ago, Strong said, nearly 70 people have contacted Red Cross offices to tell them that the smoke alarms saved their lives.

Editor’s note (April 13): The original column incorrectly stated that Gary Strong, the new CEO of the American Red Cross Gold Country Region, approved new classes to train nursing assistants. A separate arm of the Red Cross decides where to offer those classes. Because of incorrect information provided to The Bee, the article also incorrectly stated that registration fees do not cover the cost of nursing assistant courses. They do. The column stated that 70 people have told the Red Cross that donated smoke alarms saved their lives. To clarify, those individuals contacted Red Cross offices nationwide.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee