Papers Chronicle Red Cross, ABC Blood Donation Debate
The American Red Cross and America's Blood Centers are at opposite ends of a "vigorous debate" over how to deal with excess blood and how to avoid emergency blood shortages in the future, Newhouse News Service/Austin American-Statesman reports. The Red Cross has decided to freeze 100,000 units, at a cost of roughly $50 million. Using a system developed by Massachusetts-based Haemonetics Corp., in which blood is treated, frozen and thawed in a closed environment, thawed blood is usable for two weeks rather than 24 hours, as was previously the case. The freezing machines, which cost $40,000, are designed to freeze four pints of blood per hour, and the Red Cross has already purchased 30 of them. America's Blood Centers, on the other hand, is expanding its "on-call donor list to keep supplies high." Jeanne Dariotis, president of the not-for-profit company, said, "Our reserve is based on the idea that the best reserve is your body. When the blood is needed, donors come in and give blood." ABC says the freezing plan proposed by the Red Cross is "expensive and unworkable." Currently, the price of blood is $100 or more per unit and the use of frozen blood could double costs for hospitals, "increas[ing] the financial strains on the nation's health care system." In addition, the size of the project could create "logistical problems," with transportation and tracking systems adding "new operational burdens." Finally, new procedures for extending the life-span of thawed blood "are unproven on a large scale." Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, said, "It's an untested technology." In response to the criticism, a Red Cross spokesperson said, "[T]he only way to test the idea is to plow ahead and work out the kinks" (Seeman, Newhouse News Service/Austin American-Statesman, 11/18).
The American Red Cross' St. Paul office and the Minneapolis-based Memorial Blood Centers of Minnesota, an ABC affiliate, are engaged in "intense competit[ion] -- for blood donors and hospital customers," the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. The two not-profit blood banks became aware of their "philosophical differences" following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, when the Red Cross continued to accept donations after it became clear there would be few survivors, while Memorial asked donors to return over the next few weeks "when the blood stockpiles would need replenishing." Representatives for Memorial claim the Red Cross had "a financial incentive" to continue accepting donations because it sells blood outside of the state. In addition, by continuing to accept donations following the attacks, the Red Cross "gained names and numbers of new donors," Scott Caswell, director of public affairs for Memorial, said. According to Caswell, although Memorial received donors' names and numbers as well, the blood bank "took a risk [donors] might not come back" because "donors are less likely to return if they are rejected the first time." Memorial and the local Red Cross are also in competition over price, as the Red Cross charges $182 per unit of red blood cells, while Memorial charges hospitals $132 for the same product (Marcotty/Howatt, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 11/19).