October 3, 2013

A Word with the Boss: Maine Red Cross chief discusses what fears keep her awake

Pat Murtagh, an EMT trained in wilderness rescue, oversees 650 volunteers who help people in their worst moments.

By Edward D. Murphy emurphy@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Pat Murtagh has worked for a television station, L.L. Bean and is now regional chief executive officer for the Red Cross. She’s also been a trained critical-care emergency medical technician and worked on wilderness rescue missions. The Red Cross in Maine has 17 paid employees and 650 volunteers. The organization’s annual operating budget is $1.5 million, funded by individual donors, United Way, corporate partnerships and foundations. 

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Red Cross regional Chief Executive Officer Pat Murtagh oversees 17 paid employees and 650 volunteers in Maine. The organization is funded by donors, United Way, corporate partnerships and foundations.

John Ewing/staff photographer...

Q: After a career largely spent with for-profit businesses, are you surprised to be leading a nonprofit, largely volunteer organization?

A: I’ve always volunteered; I started when I was 14 years old and a volunteer at a summer camp for children with disabilities. But it really started back in San Francisco, when I was at the Chronicle Broadcasting Co. and one of our engineers was electrocuted on a television tower. And the crew came back and they were talking about it and said he probably could have survived with CPR. And I said, “What’s CPR?”

So they told me, and I went to the Red Cross and learned it and went back to the station and taught it there. When I moved to New York, I got more involved in providing medical care and got training as an EMT and then became a critical-care EMT. I loved being able to go out on an emergency and being able to work with people who were obviously in a critical situation.

I always thought others were better at the medical part, but what I really loved was being able to sit with them in the back of the ambulance and letting them know that they weren’t alone and they were going through something that we could help with. That’s what led me back to the Red Cross eventually. We stand with people at a moment in their lives when they realize they’ve lost everything, and being able to stand with them then is really important. It’s critical that someone in the community stands there with people at a time like that.

Q: How did you get involved with wilderness rescues?

A: I did a fair amount of mountaineering and climbing, and having that medical background was helpful in remote places. I still had a career in business, and when I came to Maine I recertified as an EMT and worked with Freeport Rescue. Working at L.L. Bean, I was in the outdoors a fair amount and doing quite a bit of climbing. I decided I wanted to do something different and learn how to work in the wilderness, and worked for a short stint with wilderness rescue and learning how to apply basic medical skills. 

Q: Why did you shift from L.L. Bean to the Red Cross?

A: After 9/11 hit, I really stopped to think about what I wanted to be doing and how I could do more. I was working for one of the best companies in the world, so I couldn’t imagine going to a for-profit company better than that. So I started looking in the nonprofit world and went to work for Volunteers of America in Maine as their chief operating officer. It was a great time to look at how to transfer my business skills into a nonprofit, because a lot of nonprofits at the time were looking at how to better manage their businesses. I oversaw operations in non-clinical programming, and the organization wanted to understand how better to fund these activities. I did that for about five years and loved the work, but when I saw the opening at the Red Cross, I felt like that would bring together all the pieces of my career. 

(Continued on page 2)

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