Local Red Cross chapter closed

McKeehan steps down as director while parent organization evaluates office

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Elizabethton/Carter County chapter of the American Red Cross has been temporarily closed, and its executive director has resigned, according to Red Cross officials. Reasons for the closure are currently unclear.
   "We have been working with this chapter for awhile, looking at more efficient ways of operation," said Debbie Rutland, Field Services Manager for the Tennessee office of the Red Cross. "Our idea was to transfer some of the administrative duties to another chapter."
   Rutland was at the chapter's office in the Emergency Communications Center building on Monday morning conducting an "administrative overview" of the office. The chapter office's locks were being changed by a locksmith on Monday afternoon.
   "We're here today to do an inventory of the equipment and building," Rutland said.
   Rutland also said the chapter's two employees -- including executive director Leigh McKeehan -- had resigned from their jobs on Friday.
   "Why the staff decided to resign, we have no idea," said Rutland. "We didn't realize that was their intention until this past week."
   In seeking comment from McKeehan, phone calls made to her residence resulted in a recording advising that the phone number had been disconnected or was no longer in service.
   Rutland said all telephone calls to the chapter were being re-directed to the Kingsport Red Cross chapter which would also be handling any emergency situations or needs that occurred in the county.
   "All calls and services will be sent through the Kingsport office until we can decide when we can reopen this office," said Rutland. "They would be working with police and fire departments and, if needed, they would be available."
   The county Red Cross chapter dealt with several recent county disasters, including 1998's deadly flood that killed seven and a March blizzard that knocked out power to hundreds of citizens for several days.
   The Elizabethton Red Cross chapter also received monetary donations totaling $2,800 from local citizens after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to chapter officials.
   The Red Cross is the second emergency support agency partially funded by the United Way to close in Elizabethton this year. The Northeast Youth Harbor children's shelter also closed after the state Department of Children's Services declined to renew a contract with that agency to house children at the shelter.
   Director of the Carter County United Way, Brenda Wallace, said her agency would allocate money previously budgeted for the Red Cross to seven other county agencies the United Way supports.
   The new appropriations would be based on a recalculated budget formula, she said.
   "We've had to cut the agencies (United Way) 20 percent this year because we didn't make the goal," said Wallace, "so this will just help to replace the money they have lost due to cuts."
   Rutland said citizens requiring services from the Red Cross are asked to call the Kingsport chapter at 423/378-8700.