For readers who are not familiar with SunCoast Blood Bank (SCBB), can you please provide some information about its nearly seven-decade history? SCBB was born from Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, FL, on Valentine’s Day, 1949. It now provides products and services for 12 hospitals or healthcare facilities in Southwest Florida.
We are much more than a traditional blood bank that collects blood from donors and distributes it to hospitals. We perform mononuclear cell therapy for patients with late-stage cancers and provide plasma and red cell exchanges that occur at the bedside within the hospitals.
We also perform DNA genotyping of the red cells to solve complex patient antibodies, and find rare units to help those complex cases in our community and around the county. SCBB also uses its expertise to provide daily phlebotomy services to one of our partner hospitals.
SunCoast Blood Bank is also evolving to assist in bio-development by providing specialty products and services in order to assist vital research.
Impressive. In that context, how would you describe SCBB’s mission and purpose? We are dedicated to providing our community with the highest quality of life-saving blood products and transfusion-related testing services possible. Our purpose is also to act the role of a first responder organization that is quickly activated to respond to any trauma that arrives at any area hospital. Local lives depend on our role within the hospitals to provide around-the-clock patient transfusion services.
How do you serve customers in the Southwest Florida region? Do you serve institutions of different types and sizes? We serve all sizes of healthcare facilities, from large trauma centers to small surgery and rehabilitation centers. We actively communicate with our partner facilities to ensure proper service and inventory levels. We routinely keep them up to date on the latest regulatory guidances to help them navigate these varying blood service protocols.
In a time of change in the blood industry, what continuing function do you see for not-for-profit independent community blood banks like SCBB? Blood banks around the U.S. are challenged with more environmental forces (low reimbursements, more operational costs, cumbersome regulations, higher health insurance costs, etc.) than at arguably any time in our long histories. SCBB is not immune to these external and internal forces. Therefore, blood banks must begin diversifying to find new and sustainable revenue sources to help keep the doors open and the lights on. This includes actively fundraising in order to keep up with newest technologies and capital needs. Many blood centers are also looking for any way to further streamline their organizations in order to weather this difficult time. The low-hanging fruit has long ago been plucked, but there is still some higher-hanging fruit to be had in order to reduce operational costs.
How have patients benefited from SCBB’s pathogen-reduction platelet system? Blood is classified as a drug, and though our “drug” has much safer side effects than many drugs that you see advertised on TV, the Intercept Pathogen Reduction system makes blood platelets even safer. Pathogen-reduced platelets benefit patients by inactivating a large host of bacteria and viruses, including closing the window on HIV and hepatitis virus. Pathogen-reduced platelets also benefit our sickest patients by eliminating the rare but deadly graft-vs-host disease.
Have there been any updates in removing the redundancy of required tests that the pathogen-reduction process could eliminate? Yes, pathogen reduction in platelets has already eliminated the necessity to test for bacteria and cytomegalovirus (CMV). It will also eliminate our need to test for Zika, and we are hopeful that as pathogen reduction becomes more the standard of care, other such tests will be eliminated due to the effectiveness of the pathogen-reduced products.
In the context of Zika, does your outreach program include blood for Puerto Rico? Puerto Rico has basically a three-pronged approach to managing its blood supply. Blood banks in Puerto Rico are now testing donated units for the Zika virus, which allows them to collect, process, and distribute units that are negative for Zika virus. They also import units from mainland blood centers to have blood on their shelves from non-endemic Zika areas. Last, they are using pathogen-reduction technologies for their single donor platelet products.
How has the Zika virus affected blood screening for SCBB? Our blood center had to amend its screening processes very quickly in light of the non-travel-related Zika cases in South Florida. In fact, we had to quickly amend procedures to defer donors who traveled to those South Florida areas, and we also added other questions to our screening process, since Zika can be spread by sexual contact. On August 8th, SCBB began testing 100 percent of our donors for the Zika virus, and we will continue to do so through the remainder of mosquito season. When the season is over, we will re-evaluate. We are also increasing our use of pathogen reduction for our single donor platelets in lieu of additional bacterial and Zika virus testing.