Behind the scenes with Red Cross' Kate Stene

By: Gurpreet Somal, Senior Communications Advisor, Canadian Red Cross
Kate Stene with Red Cross teddy bearGrowing up in a family of emergency responders and with a background in healthcare, it was Katherine (Kate) Stene's lifelong dream to work within the humanitarian sector, especially with the Red Cross.

She smiles, “My mum is responsible for Emergency Support Services in three different municipalities, my dad was a Chief Firefighter, my sister works for the RCMP, and my brother is a firefighter as well. I think I’ve always been connected to this world of service and feel so lucky to be a part of the Red Cross!”

In her present role, she leads a team that’s specifically trained and dedicated to providing Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) to those impacted by the 2021 Wildfires and the 2021 Floods and Extreme Weather events in B.C.

Mental health is health

After an emergency, the role of the MHPSS team varies depending on the needs of the community - from offering immediate emotional support through Psychological First Aid to mitigating safety and protection concerns and ensuring the dignity of every individual.

“We ensure that the fundamental principles of the Red Cross are followed. All aspects of protection, dignity, accessibility, inclusivity, equity, and cultural safety are extremely important,” Kate explains.

Across provinces, one of the challenges MHPSS teams face though, is to communicate the impact and benefits of such support to people and communities. This is especially true for those communities where traditionally these resources weren’t previously available or accessible.

She emphasizes, “Mental Health is Health. It sits under the health umbrella. Unfortunately, there’s a sense of discomfort around asking for such wellbeing support. But we’ve come a long way since we started providing MHPSS and we will continue to share with people impacted by a disaster about all the supports available to them by the Red Cross.” 

Resilience in recovery: 2021 B.C. wildfires, floods and extreme weather events

2021 was one of the toughest years yet for B.C., with wildfires in June and then atmospheric river floods in November that caused devastation and destruction in close to 70 communities such as Merritt, Princeton, and Abbotsford. Certain communities like the Village of Lytton have been dually impacted by and displaced because of consecutive disasters. Compounding crises like the pandemic, inflation, and other events have also understandably increased anxiety around future extreme weather events.

Three people walking beside an ambulance, two are carrying a large boxThe MHPSS teams for these operations are working directly alongside case managers for enhanced wellbeing self-recovery programs within these communities, and Kate’s role involves recovery support for both, the 2021 BC wildfires as well as the floods.

Kate reflects, “People and communities are unbelievably resilient. The recovery journey looks different for everyone; there are many preconceived notions that the recovery process may be completed upon re-entry or rebuild, however often recovery may take several years and ranges in complexity on an individual, family or community level.”

She feels honoured to play her part, “I do not take for granted those community members trusting me enough to tell me their story or sharing local knowledge and traditional wisdom. It’s rare and irreplaceable and keeps me going.”

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Just then her work phone buzzes. She looks up and smiles.

“What makes the Red Cross so extraordinary is that whether it’s emergency management, logistics, communications, or other departments – we’re all part of one inter-connected puzzle. Each team relies on the other, making things happen in real time without a moment lost.”

She adds, “I work with a phenomenal group of people. While some of us may not get to be the boots on the ground all the time, our entire team – be it on the frontlines or in the office – are just this unbelievable plethora of wisdom and experience. I learn something new everyday! Everyone at the Red Cross is here for the right reason and cares about those we help. People are at the heart of everything we do.” 

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