Alumni Profile: Red Cross Volunteer a Leading Voice in Disaster Mental Health Support

Career path of Christine Tebaldi ’96N, ’01N (MS) influenced by empowered UR nurses

When disaster strikes, the American Red Cross mobilizes a team of volunteers to assist with emergency response and recovery efforts and ensure that those affected receive basic necessities, such as food and shelter. Christine Tebaldi ’96N, ’01N (MS), makes sure that individuals also get the emotional and behavioral support they need. 

Tebaldi, the director of psychiatric emergency services and director of clinical business development at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, is the volunteer lead for the Red Cross disaster mental health team statewide and the state’s disaster mental health advisor. Whether responding to families displaced by house fires, weather-related disasters, or acts of terrorism, Tebaldi helps coordinate mental health services for those directly impacted by tragic events. 

Christine Tebaldi

“The real function is providing a compassionate presence,” she said. “There’s a decent body of work and evidence that shows having mental health services mitigates the negative consequences of potentially traumatizing events.”

Disaster mental health brings together professionals from a variety of settings. As a nurse, Tebaldi says her experience with the nursing process, assessment, and prioritization is critical. “In addition, nurses have a good sense of how the mind, body, and spirit interact with one another. We know that mental health conditions can manifest themselves in physical ways, and the knowledge of that connection is very helpful in the field.”

Tebaldi began volunteering with the Red Cross in New York after the 9/11 attacks, providing mental health support in a respite center near Ground Zero. She was a nurse practitioner at Strong Memorial Hospital at the time and joined a small cadre of Strong staffers who were deployed there for two weeks.

After returning from New York, Tebaldi continued to stay active in the Red Cross, taking on leadership roles first in Rochester, then in her home state of Massachusetts. She served as the Red Cross disaster mental health chief in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, and was honored later that year with the Chandler Blackington Community Impact Award from the Red Cross of Massachusetts.

Tebaldi’s volunteer work dovetails with her professional role at McLean, a psychiatric teaching hospital affiliated with Harvard Medical School. She oversees the emergency services programs as well as new program development initiatives. She was recently elected to a member-at-large position on the American Psychiatric Nurses Association Board of Directors.

Tebaldi discovered psychiatric nursing while an undergrad at the University of Rochester. Knowing she wanted to career in the sciences that was focused on helping others, she was leaning toward pursuing biomedical engineering. But during her sophomore year, she went to a presentation that opened her eyes to nursing as a profession.

“I learned that nursing would allow me to pursue my interests in science, but also afford me the opportunity to help others, and teach patients, families, and students - it all just clicked,” she said. “When I did the psychiatric mental health nursing rotation, I knew that area of practice was the right fit for me.

“The single most impactful experience for me was seeing how empowered nurses are at the University of Rochester. I witnessed this as a student, but also working at Strong Memorial Hospital,” she said. I knew I was joining a profession I could be proud of. Learning how to be a respected and contributing member to the health care team gave me a great foundation. Rochester is a place where you really learn what it means to be a nurse.”

This story is also featured in the Spring 2017 NURSING magazine.