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American Red Cross to hand off some blood collecting in Arkansas, eliminate 44 jobs

by Bill Bowden | October 11, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

The American Red Cross will stop taking blood donations in central Arkansas by January.

The Red Cross will transfer its Little Rock and Russellville-based blood collections to the Arkansas Blood Institute, according to a joint statement from both entities.

The move won't affect the availability of blood for hospitals and patients, according to the statement.

But 44 Red Cross employees in central Arkansas will lose their jobs, according to a paragraph in the Red Cross' statement that wasn't in the statement from the Arkansas Blood Institute.

"Unfortunately, 44 Red Cross employees will lose their jobs as part of this operational transition," according to the agency's statement. "The Red Cross deeply regrets the loss of jobs that will occur and will offer severance packages and outplacement services. The Red Cross knows these changes will affect the lives of our employees and their families, and is committed to doing the most it can to help make this transition as smooth as possible."

Another 43 Red Cross employees will be offered equivalent jobs with the Arkansas Blood Institute, according to the statement.

Joe Zydlo, a spokesman for the Red Cross' Greater Ozarks-Arkansas region, said the Red Cross no longer provides blood to any central Arkansas trauma hospitals, so the change makes sense.

"If we can work together to help each other, great, instead of it being a competition," he said. "Hopefully this is a good alignment, and this works out."

Zydlo said he got calls from reporters after a July 1 shooting at the Power Ultra Lounge in Little Rock left 28 people injured. They wanted to know about blood donations, but Zydlo had to tell them the Red Cross hasn't provided blood to central Arkansas trauma hospitals since the end of last year. Zydlo said he didn't know what brought about that change.

With the Arkansas Blood Institute focusing on blood, the Red Cross can focus on humanitarian services in central Arkansas, Zydlo said. Those services include disaster preparedness and response activities, services to military members, veterans and their families, and health and safety training throughout Arkansas.

Zydlo said he believes the change means the Red Cross will also cease doing mobile blood collections in central Arkansas.

The Red Cross will continue to provide blood services to other parts of the state, he said.

The American Red Cross was founded in 1881 by Clara Barton after a trip to Europe, where she learned of the Swiss-inspired global Red Cross, according to redcross.org.

It soon became one of America's premier humanitarian organizations, synonymous with service during war and immortalized in countless MAS*H television episodes.

The Red Cross provided relief for victims of the 1927 Mississippi River flood, in which water covered about 6,000 miles of east Arkansas. Of the 154 Red Cross camps set up to help flood victims, 80 were in Arkansas, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture.

During World War II, the American Red Cross enrolled more than 104,000 nurses for military service, prepared 27 million packages for American and Allied prisoners of war, and shipped more than 300,000 tons of supplies overseas, according to redcross.org. The Red Cross also initiated a national blood program that collected 13.3 million pints of blood for use by the armed forces.

The Arkansas Blood Institute filed incorporation papers with the Arkansas secretary of state's office in 2010. Its principal address is in Oklahoma City. It's affiliated with the Oklahoma Blood Institute, which was incorporated in that state in 1976.

Heather Browne, a spokesman for the Arkansas and Oklahoma blood institutes, didn't respond to a question regarding the exact counties in Arkansas that would be affected by this change. In an email, she wrote, "I am unable to share any more than the joint statement at this time, but would like to direct you to arkbi.org for more information about our blood center."

The Arkansas Blood Institute is the exclusive blood provider for more than 30 hospitals in Arkansas, including CHI St. Vincent hospitals, Mercy Hospitals, Sparks Health Care, Arkansas Heart Hospital, Jefferson Regional Medical Center and Conway Regional Hospital, according to the website.

"Our only mission is to reliably provide local hospitals with the right blood needed for each patient at the right time. It's all we do!" according to the nonprofit organization's website. "Arkansas Blood Institute is committed to this local area -- not to serving hospitals elsewhere in the nation."

It's described on the Arkansas Blood Institute website as "Arkansans donating blood for Arkansans."

"We are no longer vulnerable if a decision is made that blood for our hospitals is needed more by those in other parts of the country," according to the website. "With this opportunity to control our own blood supply comes the responsibility to sustain it. This means more of us will need to take responsibility and donate regularly to make sure our friends and family have blood whenever it may be needed.

"The end result is that Arkansas hospitals and patients are better served. Medical advances are becoming incredibly precise to match the best blood product to the right patient. It goes way beyond just matching up blood types. In some cases, the closest genetic matches of blood to patients are key to their survival. Local donors with similar ethnicity and genetics make that possible."

Since 1958, those needing blood in western Arkansas were served by mobile blood drives and donor centers in Fort Smith and Hot Springs, known as United Blood Services, according to arkbi.org. In October 2011, those blood centers became an affiliate of the Oklahoma Blood Institute.

According to its website, the Arkansas Blood Institute has donor centers in Little Rock, Hot Springs and Fort Smith in addition to mobile blood drives.

The Oklahoma Blood Institute was the 2009 recipient of the Oklahoma Center for Non-Profits' Charles Schusterman Award for Excellence as the state's best charity, according to an opinion piece by the company's executives in The Oklahoman in 2014.

"The company also has earned an exemplary record with the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates all blood centers," it stated.

At the time, the Oklahoma Blood Institute was the ninth-largest blood center in the U.S., with 700 employees and 14 facilities, according to the article.

A Section on 10/11/2017

Print Headline: Red Cross to hand off some blood collecting; Transfer to institute to cost 44 jobs

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