The American Red Cross is fighting back against allegations claiming it failed to provide adequate assistance and mishandled funds in the wake of Superstorm Sandy two years ago.
A report by NPR and ProPublica published last Wednesday detailed several shortcomings by the humanitarian aid organization in the hurricane's aftermath based off confidential reports, internal emails and accounts from disaster relief specialists.
Despite American Red Cross CEO and President Gail McGovern telling NBC News that the group's response efforts were "near flawless" weeks after the storm devastated the Northeast, the report spells out a number of the organization's alleged failures -- including prioritizing positive publicity over providing actual relief, wasting tens of thousands of meals because the organization couldn't locate those in need and leaving people with disabilities sleeping in wheelchairs "for days" because the charity hadn't provided adequate cots, among others.
While the American Red Cross didn't address any specific claims from the report, it called NPR and ProPublica's work "distorted" and "inaccurate," ensuring supporters the organization helped those who needed it most.
"In the chaotic first few hours and days after a disaster, it is impossible to meet every need, especially on a disaster as big as Sandy," the organization said in a statement posted on its website. "When problems occur, we try to fix them quickly, and we always strive to do better."
The Red Cross also detailed its impact in helping those affected by the disaster, saying it served 17.5 million meals and snacks, provided 74,000 overnight stays in shelters and spent (or has committed to spend) 99 percent of the $311.5 million raised for Sandy relief efforts.
Richard Rieckenberg, who led many post-Sandy relief efforts for the Red Cross, said he was demoralized from poor decision-making by top officials and claimed that the organization was only worried "about the appearance of aid, not actually delivering it," according to the NPR/ProPublica report. Rieckenberg also claimed there was a lack of emergency response vehicles (ERVs) on hand in the New York City area after the storm, even while 15 ERVs were assigned to public relations duties drawing positive attention to the organization. The Red Cross denied that was the case.
Criticism directed at the American Red Cross began almost immediately after the hurricane swept through, including a revelation from The Wall Street Journal claiming the nonprofit was shelling out $181,000 for volunteers helping with relief efforts to stay at the upscale Soho Grand Hotel.
James Molinaro, the former borough president of Sandy-hit Staten Island, spoke out against the humanitarian organization just days after it hit New York City, stating his community was not a priority to the aid group.
"All these people making these big salaries should be out there on the front line, and I am disappointed," Molinaro said at a press conference, according to NBC News. "And my advice to the people of Staten Island is: Do not donate to the American Red Cross. Let them get their money elsewhere."