Innovations in transfusion medicine

Dec. 22, 2021

How did you become involved in the work of SunCoast Blood Centers?

Sixteen years ago, I joined the SunCoast Blood Centers as director of donor services and recruitment, and three years later I was appointed chief operating officer. In 2011, I became CEO. I’m honored to lead a team of 150-plus employees. I’m also a regular donor, having donated over 120 times — or more than 15 gallons of blood products.

Will you describe how SunCoast’s activities have changed and broadened as the field has evolved from blood banking to transfusion medicine?

The SunCoast Blood Centers are known for being a leader within the blood donation industry. SCBC was the first blood center in the country to adopt and implement pathogen reduced technology for our platelet products. Pathogen reduction closes the window period on viruses (when an infection in a donor cannot be detected through testing), such as HIV, and destroys or inactivates bacteria, making these the safest platelet products in the world. As a community-oriented blood center, we wanted to provide the best and safest blood products to the hospitals that we serve. In 2020-2021, we were recognized as a national surge center because we manufactured and distributed over 15,000 therapeutic doses of convalescent plasma locally and to any COVID-19 hot spot in the country. All of this was provided free to the patient and to the hospital. We have expanded our patient testing platforms to include genetic compatibility testing for complex patient workups, while improving turnaround time to the hospitals. We also created the nation’s only 1:1 Donate-at-Home donor program in which we send a phlebotomist directly to a donor’s residence. This program is growing. There is no waiting in lines, and it is a perfect solution for those individuals who have reservations about heading into a public setting to donate blood. Lastly, each blood donor receives a complimentary COVID-19 antibody screening, which will notify our donors about the presence of antibodies and allow them to monitor their antibody status as they continue to donate with SunCoast Blood Centers.

How do you think the work of blood centers will evolve over the next 3-to-5 years?

As new technology and innovations emerge, many blood centers have already been evolving more into transfusion medicine and cellular therapies. Blood centers are far more complex and have a wider array of product and service offerings to hospitals, clinicians, and research firms than ever before. Though the core of any blood center is blood donation — as well as the manufacturing and distribution of those biological products to the hospitals that depend on them — blood centers have figured out that they can fill unique niches within transfusion medicine and cellular therapy. Blood centers keep meticulous records and manage highly regulated manufacturing practices, which uniquely positions them to step into the transfusion and cell therapy space. Therefore, over the next several years you will see blood centers take a much deeper role in supporting and participating in various clinical trials and expanding to new product lines and therapies such as CAR-T cell products for various cancer studies.

SunCoast recently joined the Blood Emergency Readiness Corps (BERC). Will you explain the BERC’s mission?

On December 1st, we announced that the SunCoast Blood Centers have been tapped to be Florida’s partner of the Blood Emergency Readiness Corps (BERC), a cooperative of 16 local blood centers from 29 states that have committed to collecting extra blood units on a rotating “on call” schedule. The extra blood products will be held in reserve for any critical-need scenario, such as a mass shooting or natural disaster. Once BERC is activated, blood will be shipped immediately to the impacted area.

Why do you think BERC’s work is important and why did SunCoast join now?

The nation’s blood centers have faced widespread blood shortages in recent months, creating a severely strained national safety net for mass traumas and other high casualty disasters. As the Suncoast’s exclusive, local blood supplier, we help BERC to be proactive in its emergency planning, rather than rely on an increasingly unstable backup supply plan.

What other steps has SunCoast taken to address shortages in blood donations during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our exclusive, Donate-at-Home service was birthed out of necessity during the pandemic. The service provides donors with a safe, socially distant, and a one-to-one personalized donation experience from the convenience of the donor’s driveway. The pandemic shut down businesses and schools — about 60% of our collections were done on our mobile buses or mobile units; high schools accounted for 20% of our collection. The day everything shut down, we lost about 95% of our blood drives. Organizationally, we also pivoted by providing convalescent plasma and by offering free COVID antibody testing to all donors. As a result of these efforts, we were able to address the blood needs of patients and hospitals in the region. During this time, we also added more medical centers like the Moffitt Cancer Center, the new Sarasota Memorial/SMH-Venice Hospital and the new Sarasota Memorial/SMH-Jellison Cancer Institute.