The American Red Cross will close its regional blood centers temporarily on a rotating basis to improve measures aimed at protecting the blood supply from AIDS and other diseases, officials said Monday.
Red Cross directors meeting in San Diego Sunday unanimously agreed to the plan, which will cost an estimated $100 million. Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole was to announce the changes Monday afternoon.A Red Cross statement said the changes were "a complete transformation of the Red Cross blood program to address the problem of AIDS in the blood supply. It will have an impact on the safety and supply of blood nationwide."
An agency spokesman confirmed some of the regional centers will be closed during the transition.
Half of the nation's blood supply comes from the Red Cross, and the remainder originates from independent centers that are less formally organized under the Association of American Blood Banks. (In Utah, most blood used by hospitals comes from Intermountain Health Care. Story on A2.)
The Washington Post said the Red Cross plans to pay for the changes through loans, fund-raising campaigns and rePlease see BLOOD on A2
ductions elsewhere in its budget.
The changes come amid reports of serious management problems at regional blood centers.
In a series of inspections, the Food and Drug Administration found Red Cross officials inadvertently released blood contaminated with hepatitis, failed to follow adequate safety precautions to guard against use of AIDS-contaminated blood and repeatedly failed to report errors and accidents to the agency.
The Post and The New York Times said the sweeping reorganization involves installation of a compatible computer network for its blood collection system, which currently has 10 different computer systems.
Red Cross officials have said lack of a single system made it difficult for the organization's national headquarters to keep track of trouble-prone regional centers and to enforce uniform standards.
Blood testing also will be centralized. Currently, a small sample of each unit of blood is tested at each regional blood bank. Because of wide variation in the quality of testing, the Red Cross board voted to centralize testing at a number of its larger facilities.
Efforts to change the procedures will be made gradually in the next year, with changes taking a few weeks to a few months, depending on the severity of of problems at each center.
Centers will be closed while the changes are made. "If for whatever reason a region was closed down, then the Red Cross would bring in blood from neighboring blood centers," said Red Cross spokesman Brian Ruberry.
The Post and The New York Times said the reorganization would turn the Red Cross from a group of local, idiosyncratic chapters with as many different procedures into a national, standardized and efficiently run body.