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American Red Cross President Dr. Bernadine Healy Announces Decision to Step Down

Aired October 26, 2001 - 11:18   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Dr. Bernadine Healy, the president of the American Red Cross, in a briefing in Washington is said to be announcing at this time that she is leaving the Red Cross leadership and will resign her post. As to why, that's an open question, but there has been speculation.

We'll hear from the doctor in her words now at this live press conference in Washington, now under way.


DR. BERNADINE HEALY, RED CROSS PRESIDENT: As you might have heard, I have made the difficult decision to retire from the American Red Cross at the end of the year. And in doing so, the one sentiment that wells up in my is quite simple: I shall miss you. We have done many things together. We have brought lots of change. Sometimes tough change. And it has not always been easy, but it has been magnificently worthwhile.

There is a time to arrive and a time to depart, and when I arrived, more than two years ago, I came with such admiration for this great American institution. And as I leave, it is with great admiration and also a love of all the good people, volunteer and staff, who are the American Red Cross and are a living force of hope, compassion, and caring.

As I stand here, I can't help but thinking of my dearest, dearest hope when I first arrived. It was that if Clara Barton, that great Civil War nurse that set our path were looking down on me as I finished my term here, she would say, Not bad for a doctor.

a strong-headed -- a very strong-hearted nurse who led the American Red Cross into the last century, a strong-hearted doctor who led it into this century, sharing a common belief that to prevent and relieve human suffering and do it in a way that preserves human dignity, is the most important calling for any mortal.

The essence of that shared belief is captured in my favorite Tiffany window in Board of Governor's Hall. The one on the left that depicts Saint Filimina, known for her healing powers. In the window, she is surrounded by a group of women, who as a team represent the noble at any rates of hope, mercy, faith, charity, and healing. Saint Filimina and the women with whom she stands are symbolic of the most beautiful aspects of the human spirit, love and compassion.

I am so proud of all of you. Together we have built a leadership team that is second to none. Our biomedical operations under Ramesh Bidani and Gary Dolch, Jackie, Jerry, with the help of many others is growing ever stronger in terms of quality and in terms of blood inventory growth and in terms of compliance.

One of our greatest strengths is our network of chapters led by Jim serving every community in America, Jim, and poised with dear, dear Mary Dekuyper, our chief volunteer, to mobilize volunteers as never before to fulfill America's need for third-century civil defense.

International services has been transformed. Creative new programs like the African Women's Initiative, our Measles In Africa effort, our established partnerships with the Pan-American Health Organization and new partnership with President Bush and the white house for America's fund for Afghan children. We have forged ever stronger ties with our sister societies on all continents and vastly increased our global humanitarian work.

We have taken a controversial, but principle stand to insist that the inclusion of Magen David Adom, Israel's Red Cross society, be admitted into the Red Cross, Red Crescent movement, a movement which is supposed to include all sovereign nations. After 25 years of pressure American Red Cross policy became over the past year and a half, the withholding of dues -- administrative dues to Geneva until inclusion occurred. This policy is now up for grabs.

Reasonable people have differed with me on this and certain other matters, but this is an area of deep principle for me. Not easily compromised.

This is also a time for us, please, to honor the silent strength within our top management team. Kate, Chris, Brian, Bill, Jan, Skip, Mike, Carol, and Larry Moore. Tom, Jerry, Stan, Charlie, Jack, Terry, Patricia, Suzanne, Larry And Laura. What a team!

You know, notably our public opinion polls showed the American Red Cross is at highest level of public confidence and trust since the American Red Cross began measuring. Yes, all because of the strength of our leadership team here and throughout the field and the numerous people throughout our ranks who are so often seen but not heard.

And who would have imagined that all that thinking and planning and those top-off exercises and testimonies and endless meetings that we have undertaken these past 18 or more months to prepare for weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear, chem, bio, high-yield explosives. Who would have imagined they would have become necessary in the first year of this millennium?

A tragedy so unbearable and so cruel. From it's very first moments. We watched it unfold together, in a very deeply personal way. I shall never forget our headquarters on September 11th. Charley Daveeta and I walked each floor and visited every cubicle to say, the Red Cross is staying open. But if you need to go, that's okay, too. Almost everyone stayed. Almost everyone stayed. Working as Red Crossers know how to work when disaster hovers, watching the tragedy unfold before our eyes on TV and outside our window, where we could see the smoke from the pentagon. The pentagon in flames.

All around us the buildings were evacuated people and cars were gone. Police barricades surrounded us. And I will never forget the panorama surrounding Red Cross square as I stood outside our 17th street building for a moment, and it struck me that the only other sign of life on that usually-bustling scene, were the snipers in their black garbed flack jackets on top of the white house.

In the wake of the terrible uncertainty that surrounded the events of that day, we thought of the pain of those lost, who died brutal deaths as they descended the stairwells in the World Trade Center, as they gave last rites or jumped from windows to escape the fire and smoke that had engulfed the building. As they were crushed and burned at their death -- at their desks at the Pentagon, or dismembered in a heroic act in Pennsylvania that spared Washington another attack.

We must -- must now be thinking of those less visible in their time of suffering. Victims of unfolding bioterrorist attack on our nation. Those dying yet another horrible, painful death from anthrax. And do not forget our military who are putting their lives and limbs and they loved ones at risk as we speak to fight this ugly war for us.

But you know all of America is a victim, wounded and scared and needing help from the greatest humanitarian organization in the world. These are not the victims of our usual hurricane, fire or flood. Rather they are the disasters of a global network of twisted human minds who have, in stealth, launched on all of us and all Americans a new kind of war that will be with us for months and years to come. We must prepare, we must be ready to help the suffering of yesterday and also to help the suffering of tomorrow. We must prepare to reach out into our communities and help through this difficult time with facts and information. We must be there to help every community mourn and prepare.

When one looks through the eyes of Red Crosser one knows that so much of life is about one person in need of help and another person, often a stranger, who is there for them. It is about people and communities preparing each other to weather a dreadful storm. Sooner or later, each of us will be vulnerable, I can tell you that from my life in medicine. Sooner or later everyone of us will be -- so to speak -- a patient.

But I am confident the work we have been doing as a family, before September 11th and afterwards, will make us stronger to confront the this horror in the days and years ahead. The creation of the Red Cross Disaster Liberty Fund in the wake of the September 11 tragedies is part of that response. A separate and distinct and highly transparent, highly audited fund coming from generous Americans who support the work we must do because of these hero -- horrific attacks on our nation.

And because of the aftermath of those horrific attacks, this means that I strongly oppose co-mingling of the monies raised in the aftermath of 9-11 with any other Red Cross disaster funds. And here again, reasonable people can differ. It has been my belief from the very beginning however, that the Liberty Fund represents a much broader mission, which is calling upon virtually every one of our lines of service. A fact which we have communicated widely to our donor base.

For example, beyond our usual disaster work in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon, we instituted a new family grant program providing cash grants to cover roughly 3 to 4 months of need for grief-stricken families.

It is very hard to grieve if you worry about paying your kid's tuition or your rent, or even go to the grocery store. Or get your mom or your dad to be with you from across the land to be with you, to mourn, to go to funerals. I can tell you that this family grant program has filled my office with a flood of touching letters from grief-stricken families saying, each in their own way, based on their own personal family needs, thank you American Red Cross.

HEMMER: At a minimum, it is a rather peculiar time for the head of the American Red Cross to leave her post, but indeed that is what Dr. Bernadine Healy will do at the end of this year. December 31st will finish up her term there.

Dating back to the attacks of September 11th, the American Red Cross has raised more than $500 million for victims of the events in New York and also Washington and western Pennsylvania. No official reason given.

CNN's peter Viles though has been watching the charity line throughout all this and he joins us now from New York.

Peter, on the inside, are you gathering anything? Are you hearing anything as to why this decision would come at this particular time?

PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there has been growing criticism, bill of the way the Red Cross is using that $500 million and has raised. Even some local Red Cross chapters complaining the Red Cross had basically raised too much money. Raised money that it didn't have an immediate need for and was perhaps hurting the credibility of Red Cross. So there had been some criticism of the Red Cross for raising so much money.

The relief effort here in New York has been widely praised but the money issue has been -- been the problem.

HEMMER: So is the issue then getting it distributed?

VILES: Well it's -- it's -- it's what the plans are for it. The plans are for it -- to use a lot of it to prepare for future disasters -- which is not what a lot of people had in mind when they gave the money.

HEMMER: Alright, Peter. Peter Viles there live in New York watching this.

Sorry I was getting something in my ear there. I couldn't hear the end of it, but certainly it's something I mentioned -- it was a peculiar time. I think it probably strikes just about everybody this way. And when you think about Bernadine Healy, you think about Peter, before I let you go, here.

VILES: Sure.

HEMMER: If you think about her, the public appeals she had made on CNN and so many other networks to donate and give blood. One of the few medical doctors who had ever led the American Red Cross and indeed it strikes a lot of us here in Atlanta anyway as a strange time.

VILES: It is. The timing is strange, coming right after the Red Cross, on of it's finest hours in the aftermath of September 11th. But great controversy about the amount of money they raised, and the fact that they said very explicitly, they did not intend to put a lot of it back into these communities, but intended it to use it to build Red Cross relief efforts for future, perhaps future terrorist attacks.

That no -- that message wasn't clearly communicated to people who were giving money to the Red Cross after those personal appeals by Dr. Healy.

HEMMER: Thanks for hanging in there peter. Peter Viles in New York, many thanks.

Dr. Bernadine Healy again will leave her post at the end of this year. December 31st will be her last day. A little more than two years on the job. As she said today -- quote -- "there is a time to arrive and a time to depart," and indeed she will at the end of 2001.




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