Dan Hust | Democrat
WHILE THE DEMAND for blood and other blood products is high in Sullivan County, a shortage in supply is leaving officials weary of what may happen in case of an multi-patient emergency.
'The Battle' For Blood
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO August 21, 2007 Blood is badly needed.
On that, everyone can agree.
Donors are welcome anywhere.
On that, too, everyone can agree.
Blood products collected in Sullivan County should primarily stay in Sullivan County.
On that, everyone cannot agree, and now the Sullivan County Legislature is stepping into the middle of an issue that’s been smoldering for years.
Come the Legislature’s September 13 Health and Family Services Committee meeting, Hudson Valley Blood Services and the Northeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the American Red Cross will make their cases to legislators on the efficacy and need to host blood drives with county personnel.
Currently, only Hudson Valley Blood Services, a division of the New York Blood Center, collects blood from county workers on county property.
“We’ve been running one blood drive a year with the County of Sullivan for 20, 25 years,” explained Andrea Cefarelli, New York Blood Center’s director of recruitment.
For most of those years, Cefarelli’s organization supplied Catskill Regional Medical Center (CRMC) with blood products.
But eight years ago, the hospital switched to the Red Cross.
“The hospital went searching for a new supplier,” explained Dawn Ciorciari, the Red Cross’ assistant director for donor recruitment in the Northeast Pennsylvania Region. “They were unhappy with the New York Blood Center’s prices.”
Rosemary Steuber, CRMC’s blood bank supervisor, confirmed that statement.
“We have a better financial situation with the Red Cross that benefits the hospital,” she remarked, speaking of the blood testing and processing fees every hospital is charged by the various blood collection agencies (all of which are non-profit).
The Red Cross also discounts its prices for CRMC based on how much it collects in Sullivan County.
New York Blood Center is actually a provider of blood products to CRMC but they’re third on the list, behind the Red Cross and secondary provider Bergen Community Blood Services out of New Jersey.
“Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of our blood is from the Red Cross,” said Steuber.
“And in order to have the blood they need, we need to collect blood in the county,” added Ciorciari.
So with CRMC’s blessing, the Red Cross has been urging legislators to allow it to hold blood drives on county property with county employees.
Ciorciari insists she’s not trying to push out New York Blood Center.
“I have absolutely nothing bad to say about the Blood Center,” she explained. “But the Red Cross needs to collect more blood in Sullivan County… The hospital is using more, and we need to collect more so we can supply them.”
Cefarelli doesn’t have a problem with that effort, so long as Hudson Valley Blood Services can continue to run blood drives with the county.
“We already co-collect in some places,” she pointed out. “I’m hoping that’s what happens [because] everybody wins.”
“But there are only so many blood donors,” said Ciorciari, explaining that of the 37 percent of Americans eligible to donate blood, only about 5 percent actually do (and it’s only 2 percent in New York State).
“We’re both basically cutting into each other’s donors” as a result, she remarked.
Cefarelli sees it differently.
“We coexist very nicely,” she said, pointing out that the New York Blood Center provides blood products to Orange Regional Medical Center, Westchester Medical Center, and other downstate and NYC hospitals facilities that many Sullivan County residents utilize.
“Sullivan County is really supporting the greater New York community,” she explained.
Plus, she said, the New York Blood Center, while the second-largest blood collector in the country, focuses on other areas, as well, like research (they developed the hepatitis C test, for example) and the freezing of rare blood for patients around the world with special needs.
The New York Blood Center also predates the Red Cross in local blood collection, having begun drives in the area shortly after its founding in 1964.
“The question is, what is a community?” Cefarelli remarked. “Blood never goes to a center or a bank. It always goes to a recipient.”
She stated that blood products cannot and should not be restricted to residents of a specific region, asking locals to consider what response they would want should they need blood services in places far removed from their hometown.
Ciorciari, however, has heard many a resident’s desire to ensure that the blood they donate goes to someone in need in their own community, and she’s not about to ignore that plea.
“People need to be aware… so they can make an informed decision,” she explained. “The bottom line is that the New York Blood Center supplies blood in the New York City area, and they have that entire area to draw from.”
She did admit, though, that all the blood goes into a pool unless earmarked for a specific person (i.e., the donor him/herself or the donor’s friend or relative).
Thus, Red Cross blood donors in Sullivan County could see their donations go to any one of 41 hospitals within a 24-county region spanning most of northeastern Pennsylvania and Tioga and Orange counties in New York, in addition to Sullivan.
In that respect, the Red Cross is much like Hudson Valley Blood Services, which pools its blood supply as well and makes blood products available to 40 hospitals in 8 Hudson Valley counties.
The fight over blood is a national issue, too, with the Red Cross and America’s Blood Centers having created a “memorandum of understanding” outlining how the various blood collection agencies should conduct themselves with each other yet not condoning or condemning competition.
That’s why Legislator Ron Hiatt is seeking some clarity.
“I called them all together to hear what they had to say,” said the chair of the Legislature’s Health and Family Services Committee. “Neither one cast aspersions on the other, but it’s clear to me that each one would like to be recipients [of county employees’ blood donations].”
From that first discussion came the need for a full public conversation, set for the 9 a.m. committee meeting on September 13 in the Legislative Committee Room at the Government Center in Monticello.
“I’d like to pull in all the facts and just see,” said Hiatt.
Hiatt added “the jury’s out” on what action the county will take, if any, but Legislative Aide Alexis Eggleton indicated the county would be happy if both organizations simply worked together.
Should the Red Cross and the New York Blood Center be unable or unwilling to do that, the county will choose with CRMC foremost in mind.
“The bottom line is, we want to do the best we can for the local hospital,” she remarked.