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Rhode Island blood wars

July 19, 2011

In keeping with the recent popularity of vampires in popular culture, Rhode Island hospitals are worried about someone stealing the state’s blood.

The members of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island sent a letter to local blood donors earlier this month, warning them to stay away from the Red Cross.

Why? Because unlike the other states in New England, Rhode Island relies on the Blood Center to collect blood for its local hospitals.  The hospitals say they used to collect their own blood but that proved too complicated, so they came together to create a central organization to collect and distribute the vital fluid.

But now the Blood Center claims Red Cross is infringing on its turf.  Starting last fall, the Red Cross based in Dedham, Massachusetts started collecting blood in the Ocean State.  According to Red Cross’s spokeswoman, the organization has collected 183 units of blood in the state.

The Blood Center says it supplies 100% of the blood for Rhode Island Hospitals, so every unit collected by the Red Cross is blood that is going out of state. It worries that as Red Cross’s presence in the Ocean State grows, it will interrupt and deplete Rhode Island’s collection efforts.

Red Cross’s corporate spokesperson Donna Morrissey disputes that claim, saying that the organization supplied the Blood Center with 38 blood products in the past year.

The President and CEO of the Blood Center, Larry Smith calls that number insignificant, given that the Blood Center gives out 55,000 units of blood a year. He says those 38 units were rare forms of blood that are hard to find.

We’ve sent blood to every place in the country when they need it and we would never claim that we would supply the Red Cross with blood. That’s ridiculous. It’s nothing. You might as well say zero. It’s a rounding error.

Smith is calling on the Red Cross to up its collection efforts in the places where it supplies blood instead of in Rhode Island. But the Red Cross doesn’t agree with that sentiment. Red Cross’s corporate spokesperson Donna Morrissey says the organization believes in “Blood without borders.”

So whether you give to your local hospital or you give to the Red Cross, it helps the overall system of blood inventories.  At the Red Cross the patients we serve are dear to our hearts and I hardly think someone who is facing surgery or needs a transfusion is concerned with the home state of the blood donor.

Smith with the Blood Center agrees that patients don’t care where their blood comes from, but he says that’s besides the point.

The only important thing is that patients who need blood would get it. We would never claim that patients in Rhode Island would only want blood from Rhode Island. But that’s a non issue. It has nothing to do with who’s collecting blood. If Red Cross supplied blood to hospitals in Rhode Island it would have every right to collect blood in Rhode Island, but they don’t.

Smith says other than sending out letters to blood donors, there’s not much more that the Blood Center can do to keep the Red Cross out of Rhode Island. He says he has no plans for a lawsuit and hopes that this issue doesn’t escalate into a a lengthy, expensive conflict. But so far, it’s unresolved.

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