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Health Leadership Summit Looks to the Future and to the Past


Red Cross health care professionals learn that partnerships have been a key to successful disaster response for more than a century.

An American Red Cross Health Leadership Summit brought together Red Cross nurses, emergency medical services, physicians, mental health professionals, spiritual care counselors and other Red Cross health volunteers for a three-day meeting in Washington, D.C.

Attending the summit were dozens of committed volunteers and employees who bring lifesaving Red Cross services to people across the nation.

These health workers, from so many different professions, so many different work environments, so many different parts of the country, came in the spirit of partnership. All sought knowledge that would help them further the Red Cross mission to provide relief to victims of disasters and help people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies, as well as build their own leadership skills.

A Changing Nation

The Health Leadership Summit opened with an historical presentation from Marjorie DesRosier, RN, PhD, a psychosocial and community health nurse and clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington.

Included in the audience were Red Cross and George Washington University health care professionals. DesRosier’s appearance was the first partnership event organized by the Red Cross and the University School of Nursing, whose campuses are side-by-side in the heart of Washington, D.C.

DesRosier riveted fellow nurses with an account of Red Cross nursing from the Spanish-American War in 1898 to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, showing that Red Cross and American nurses joined hands and grew together.

“Whatever nursing topic I’m researching,” says DesRosier, “it always ties back to the American Red Cross.”

For example, the National Committee on Red Cross Nursing Service established national nurse enrollment standards for Red Cross nurses. Those same standards were later adopted by various state nursing boards.

Coordination was so close among the Red Cross, the National Organization for Public Health Nursing, the National League for Nursing and the American Nurses Association that the organizations became interlinked. Close partnerships were especially helpful during World War I when the Red Cross led Army nurse recruiting. At one point Surgeon General of the U.S. Army William C. Gorgas wanted 1,000 nurses a week.

Meta-Leadership Crisis Response

When it comes to fulfilling the Red Cross mission, partnerships are as important today as they were during World War I.

Whether a disaster affects one home or the entire nation, the Red Cross does not respond alone. Beside the Red Cross are businesses, hospitals, schools, health-care institutions and religious and community organizations, all working together to bring relief.

Health Leadership Summit attendees learned how to be meta-leaders, able to mobilize several organizations to work together during a crisis.

Red Cross meta-leadership workshops were led by Dr. Kate Wright, a professor at Saint Louis University Heartland Centers for Public Health and Community Capacity Development, and Dr. Louis Rowitz, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois. Both are renowned authors and leaders in the public health and leadership fields.

Rowitz and Wright talked about the need for leaders to be flexible. “Priorities change over time during a disaster,” Rowitz said, “the system is in a constant state of flux.” Wright stressed how important it is to anticipate what might be needed in a crisis situation and to build personal connections before disaster strikes.

The concept of meta-leadership was developed from studies of the actions of crisis leaders, beginning with September 11. Meta-leadership training similar to that offered at the Red Cross Health Leadership Summit, is provided to senior government officials responsible for emergency preparedness and response, including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Homeland Security and the White House Homeland Security Council.

About the American 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


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