Mental Health counselor Sandy Ramirez is anything but retired

By Ellis Levinson

For 40 years, Oregon resident Sandy Ramirez has been helping others professionally. The retired psychologist and Red Cross mental health volunteer counsels disaster victims. And those who benefit from her skills aren’t limited to just Red Cross clients.

Her deployment to the Northern California wildfire disaster areas this month started at the Sacramento pre-deployment staff shelter. Sandy’s function was in Disaster Mental Health for Staff. Living in trying conditions can take its toll on helpers as well as on the folks we help.

While waiting to be deployed, “people are anxious to help but frustrated,” she explained. With so many disaster situations in flux, sometimes volunteers are in a hurry-up-and wait conundrum.

And once staff throws themselves into the everyday grind of hands-on disaster relief, the stresses can mount. Witnessing utter destruction, the suffering of clients, long workdays, and sleeping quarters shared with scores of other volunteers can take their toll.

That’s where Sandy’s skills come in. “Mostly it’s asking questions so they can express themselves and know that someone cares,” she said.

While Sandy provides her professional services to those we come to assist, “my main job is to take care of the Red Cross people first.” Those folks often suggest ways to improve working conditions. Sandy passes those suggestions “up the line” for consideration by management.

You may wonder if Sandy is a glutton for punishment. As she waited to talk with fire victims in need of counseling at the United Methodist Church in Napa yesterday, she explained that she recently deployed to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.

Sandy is also training to run Armed Forces reconnection workshops that help veterans with re-immersion into home life.

It’s funny that she thinks of herself as being retired.


Beth Eurotas and Jim Burns provided editorial support for this story.