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Citing low demand, Red Cross closes Johnson City blood center

Nathan Baker • Updated Jul 10, 2019 at 7:02 PM

On July 1, the American Red Cross closed a blood donation center in Johnson City and ended its blood drives in Northeast Tennessee.

Spokesperson for the Carolinas Blood Services Region Maya Franklin tied the decision to an industrywide decline in demand for blood products.

In an emailed statement, Franklin said the organization would no longer hold blood drives in Washington, Sullivan, Carter, Unicoi, Johnson, Hawkins and Greene counties. The Johnson City Blood Donation Center at 818 Sunset Drive stopped accepting donations at the beginning of the month, according to Franklin’s statement and a letter sent earlier this year to past donors.

In a trend noted by national blood suppliers earlier this decade, improved medical techniques and technology have allowed for less-invasive surgeries that don’t require blood transfusions. Some medical studies of the past five years also found transfusions unnecessary for procedures that previously required them, like coronary artery bypass grafts.

Hospitals employing these practices and equipment needed less blood, which caused a glut of supply on the blood products market.

According to some analysts, hospital consolidations further turned the power dynamic in price negotiations with blood centers toward the hospitals, which pushed for lower prices.

Declining revenues led to blood center consolidations and layoffs across the industry, eventually affecting the American Red Cross, which holds 40 percent of the U.S. blood products market.

Don Campbell, director of the Marsh Regional Blood Center, said the regional blood supply market is apparently different from the challenges faced by the Red Cross.

Marsh has seen the usual summertime decrease in donors, but Campbell said blood products usage has not declined in the 13-county area it serves.

Last year, Ballad Health named Marsh its exclusive blood product supplier. A Kingsport-based organization, Marsh has always been affiliated with local hospitals. It started in Holston Valley Hospital in 1947, then became a division of Wellmont Health System and finally, joined Ballad when Wellmont and Mountain States Health Alliance officially merged last year.

As a division within the larger health system, Campbell said Marsh doesn’t haggle over prices and works with health care providers to reduce blood products wastage, which can lower the demand for and cost of blood.

Marsh has three donation centers, one each in Kingsport, Bristol and Johnson City, and conducts more than 600 mobile blood drives annually.

Campbell said he heard rumors about the Johnson City Red Cross center closing, but he had not realized it had happened.

Franklin said the donation center’s closure and the loss of the blood drives will not impact the Red Cross’ services in the area.

“We will remain committed to those we serve and continue to deliver our lifesaving Red Cross mission by providing disaster relief and assistance, health and safety education and training and support and services for military members and their families,” Franklin said.

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