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Tuesday, January 28, 2020
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Health & Hospitals

The Business of Blood

Category: Health & Hospitals

Savannah’s Hospitals Tap Different Sources

When you or a family member is in need of blood at a local hospital, you expect it to be available. The source of the blood is not top of mind. There seems to be an endless number of blood drives going on every month, located at public buildings, shopping malls, schools and places of business.
But in Chatham County, the region’s three hospitals actually use two very different sources of blood, each competing a bit for donors and sponsoring organizations for mobile collection drives, and each with different distribution methodologies.
Memorial University Medical Center gets its blood from The Blood Alliance, a not-for-profit company, headquartered out of Jacksonville, Fla., with a local office and management team in Savannah. The company is the sole provider of blood and blood products for the hospital Beaufort Memorial in Beaufort county also uses The Blood Alliance.
St. Joseph’s Candler hospital system gets its blood and blood products from the American Red Cross system.
According to John Helgren, media coordinator for The Blood Alliance, the company was asked to come into the Savannah market by Memorial in 2001 to provide the hospital with a “more efficient source of blood for the hospital’s need.” All blood collected in Chatham County by The Blood Alliance stays in the county, and goes to Memorial.
“We are the only community blood bank in the area. The blood we collect stays in Savannah,” he says. And it takes a look of blood to meet the hospital’s needs. “In September, we have 30 mobile drives. We also have two dedicated donor rooms that run daily. On average, we need 1,000 pints of blood a month, and that’s what we’re trying to supply a month ahead at all times,” Helgren said.
The Blood Alliance runs one collection center on Memorial University Medical Center hospital grounds at 4700 Waters Ave., and one at their office at Hodgson Memorial Dr. A number of area companies and groups are major supporters, including The Savannah Waterfront Association which sponsored a mobile unit on River St. near the Waving Girl statue over the Labor Day weekend.
Conversely, blood collected locally by the American Red Cross supports blood needs on a national level, shared across a regional, national and international system. But that also means that St. Joseph’s/Candler can tap into a national system for blood and blood products, which is the norm according to Dean Smith, director of the Blood Services division of the Savannah Chapter of the American Red Cross. Robin Wingate is CEO of the Savannah Chapter.
But Smith’s responsibilities, his blood collection district, runs down the Georgia Coast to St. Augustine and inland to Treutlan County, one of several districts in Georgia.
He’s been in Savannah for seven years, overseeing blood collection and import, and was formerly with a community blood bank.
“A pint of blood you donate to the American Red Cross travels to wherever it is needed,” explains Smith. “Actually, Georgia is an importing region,” he said, and does not collect enough blood for its needs. “We rely on other areas of the country to meet our needs, and import approximately 50,000 units a year into the State.”
“About 5 percent of the eligible population gives blood; in Georgia , however, it’s closer to 3.5 percent,” Smith says.
Why? There are a different factors. “We have a lot of rural areas. Just the sheer distances to get to a collection site are different from other areas of the country,” he said. And there is a large minority population in Georgia. “Minorities, as a rule of thumb, tend to not donate as often. While we have some wonderful minority donors in our area, for the most part, as a rule of thumb, that is true.”
In addition to collecting blood, the Red Cross has a larger mission including disaster relief, Armed Forces support, health and safety education and disaster preparedness training. A recent “Disaster Preparedness Expo was hosted by the Savannah Chapter at the Wal-Mart on Ogeechee Rd. to help area residents prepare for the hurricane season and other disasters. Partner agencies at the event included the Salvation Army, Humane Society, Southside Fire Department, CEMA, Savannah Police and the Port Wentworth Fire Department, all on hand to help folks with their disaster preparations.
The Savannah Red Cross staff distributed close to a thousand packets of disaster preparedness information, according to Tina Hardy, Director of Public Support. "Everyone had a great time and received a lot of good information to help them prepare for disasters,” she said
At the event, the Savannah Red Cross took the opportunity to showcase one of three, fully equipped, shelter trailers purchased through receipt of a Wal-Mart Foundation Grant. "These trailers will be prepositioned in our western most counties which become evacuation routes in the event Florida evacuates" said John Wright, Savannah Emergency Services Director. .
The Red Cross runs a blood collection center at the corner of Abercorn and Tibet Streets, open six days a week. (Mon-Thurs, from 11 a.m to 7 p.m; Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Sat. from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.) Upcoming blood drives the first week of September are planned at Southside Baptist Church and at Armstrong Atlantic State University.
If blood has to be purchased by The Blood Alliance, it is not cheap. “It can run $300 a pint and up, but is not dependent on type. The price for blood products varies,” said Helgren. The Blood Alliance can also tap in to a network of other community blood bank companies, such as theirs.
The Blood Alliance’s local manager is Michael Matthews who oversees the two centers in Savannah, along with Brenda Marion and Cindy Monchecourt, Donor Resource Consultants.
And collections have been going well this year, though recently, “…it’s summertime. Summertime is often challenging because schools are out, people are away and so we see fewer donations, but we see more accidents so usage goes up,” explained Helgren. “We’ve seen a need for “O negative,” the universal blood type which can be transfused into a patient with any blood type,” he said. “We contact other community blood banks to see if they can help provide us with blood types that we may be short of.”
Both groups urge businesses, organizations, schools and church groups to host blood drives. And both have mobile units that can come on-site for the event.
“Whether you donate to us or another not for profit center, it’s all going to help people. As long as you’re donating somewhere, that’s the bottom line,” said Smith.

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