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Small Patients, Big Impact

In a very short time I’ve had the great opportunity to visit and learn more about the hospitals, agencies, centers and corporations that support this industry and I never cease to be amazed.

The thing that inspires me most from my visits is that we have truly incredible people working with us. I have met the occasional tyrant, pay check collector, and just incompetent charlatan but fortunately they are few and far between and set off my alarms pretty early on.

I have never been one to focus on the bad; instead I want to focus on the good in my article. I want to highlight a hospital based blood collection team that is doing it right. They are managing the responsibilities of taking care of our nation’s tiniest patients. You are all familiar with their name but you may not be aware of the challenges and struggles they encounter. So without further delay let me share with you what I learned and what advice I would like to provide for Washington, D.C.’s Children’s National Edward J Miller, Blood Donor Center.

Children’s National Medical Center -Washington DC

GiveBlood-ChildrensNestled in the Northwest section of Washington D.C. the Children’s National Medical Center Campus, part of Children’s National Health System is an impressive facility with vibrant colors, large well labeled signs and very helpful staff. It is no wonder patients and visitors alike feel welcomed. That was the feeling I got seeing Dr. Bear’s warm face plastered about the halls; not once did it make me question the facilities legitimacy or their ability to care of patients. Weird how that works, huh? I wonder why we don’t create this feeling at every hospital. Would people have such an innate and primal fear response to entering our buildings if walls weren’t drowned in flat and generic tones?

For most medical campuses the experience of locating your destination is similar to being in a train station, varying languages, people in multitudes of emotional levels, and a staggering number are wondering around with no idea where they are supposed to be. Children’s does a great job of funneling people to one location and it was there at the information desk I was given accurate instructions for finding the center.

Blood Collection Center

To get to Never, Never Land, Peter Pan exclaimed that “You find the second star from the right and head straight on till morning”. Pretty cut and dry but finding the blood center on the other hand takes a little bit more work. Corridor, atrium, elevator, hallway, cafeteria, back hallway and if you are looking for it you can find the door on the right. This is not a cheap shot because as I would learn in my discussion with the blood collection center’s recruitment manager this is a commonly heard issue, even to the point that staff who work in the facility have commented that with their mortgages on the line, they couldn’t tell you where the center is.

This factor contributes to the 2.5% of the hospital’s employees who actually participate in donating at the center. Kara Mazer, Center Recruiter, is working on addressing this concern.
A quarter of the units collected by Children’s National comes from their blood collection center and employee participation is a vital component to meeting those demands. The remaining 75% percent comes from mobile community drives throughout D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

Good Service Comes from Great Hires

The in-house trained staff is a small one. They have 9 phlebotomists, 2 recruiters, 1 driver and a manager. Due to hospital’s location in Washington D.C. these 13 employees are taking on a sizable challenge.

The Nation’s Capital is home to foreign diplomats, international tourists, celebrities, members of congress, and a large African American population. In fact one street in the Columbia Heights section of Washington was, through census information, dubbed the most diverse street in the U.S. (http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/columbia_heights_dcs_most_diverse_neighborhood_but_for_how_long/3235).

Those in the blood industry can appreciate the uphill battle Children’s National is going to encounter in such a market. In addition, I think we are all familiar with the reluctance minority donors have to donate. This is troublesome news when on average Children’s National is treating close to 1,200 sickle cell patients a year at about 90 a month.

During my visit and platelet donation I was introduced to the previously mentioned Kara Mazer as well as Anna Namata the department’s manager and learned that finding matches is challenging.
Children need less blood, obviously, than their adult counter parts but due to the unique and diverse makeup of the hospital’s patients they are in a constant search for exact matches, and they admit that is quite a daunting task.

Having spent years in the blood collection industry, I felt like I was talking to kindred spirits during my visit. Both Kara and Anna have the excitement and hope I like to see in management. They clearly care about the patient experience and genuinely seek to improve the hospital’s vital service line. Something that disappoints me is when I visit larger agencies and find that senior management is content with the status quo and doesn’t work to move their agency to higher levels. Kara appreciates where Children’s placement is in the market but understands that with some changes the program could have real measurable results.

Having met their staff, leadership, and understanding that my platelet donation will be split multiple ways makes Children’s National my preferred donation destination whenever I am in the Washington D.C. area. Thank you April for the excellent stick.

Challenges for Children’s

Children’s Miracle Networking

Even with the courteous staff and upbeat attitude Children’s National Edward J Miller Blood Donor Center still has a very difficult road ahead. The blood disorders and oncology needs are never ending and are only compounded by the diversity of the community they serve.

Children’s has a daily collection goal of 30 units a day on the bloodmobile or 6,500 units a year. Even with them meeting this goal the complexity of type matching and antibodies still forces them to purchase units from out of house sources. This is the biggest hindrance of Children’s National’s growth potential because right now for every unit they are collecting they are purchasing one from outside of house. These are not the cheap units either, these they are cmv-, O-, irradiated and are antigen and antibody compatible units. These specialized units are pricey. To protect my friend in the finance department I will let you know that when I heard the amount that was being spent on acquiring those units from other blood banks and agencies I was in a state of disbelief. Let’s just say if they were to take 1/5 of what they were spending on purchasing blood to make internal improvements and investments they would drop what they were spending by more than 50% in 3 years.

“It can’t be that expensive”, you say. Well here’s the thing, and honestly this surprised me too. The Children’s Miracle Network does not share or redistribute their blood supply. Whether because of politics, technological inefficiencies, geographical constraints or federal regulations on shipping controlled substances, it just isn’t being done. Be the company or visionary who can get all the hospitals in the network up and communicating with each other and you can write your own check. Call up Booz Allen Hamilton or Deloitte and I am sure they could get this sorted out quickly.

What’s Next?

Unlike the aforementioned Peter Pan , the Children’s National Edward J Miller Blood Donor Center is ready to grow up. They have a very powerful and recognizable brand and everyone “gets” sick children. While I have worked in the medical field and am understanding to the reluctance to change with the times I think with the right plan and direction Children’s National could take some very important steps to become a source of hard to find units instead of a major purchaser of them.

Blood Banks that are run well and efficiently are great revenue generators for hospitals. I believe that they can make that step and get the cost of purchased units down to something that is closer to 25% as opposed to the 50% they are currently paying for within 3 years.

If you would like to help Children’s National Blood Donor Center either by making a donation, scheduling a community blood drive, or making a gift in kind/cash donation please contact Kara Mazer at 202-476-6524. I am sure she’d be happy to for the help.

Child at Heart, Mentor to Marketers,

B.C.Thomas

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