Staff Editorial: Bad blood

GW students flocked to Red Cross Headquarters not far from campus or other sites to donate blood following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But now the Red Cross will destroy as many as one of every five of the donations they have received. This action seems ludicrous considering the near constant pleas the agency usually sends out as blood supplies run low. The Red Cross has missed perhaps its best opportunity to improve its blood stockpile and should have been better prepared to preserve American’s gifts of life.

According to documents and interviews obtained by The Washington Post, the Red Cross does not have the capacity to freeze excess units of blood. Red Cross officials originally said unused donations would be preserved, but now they are refusing to answer reporters’ questions about the discrepancy.

Collecting, managing and selling donated blood is one of the organization’s main activities. In fact, the Red Cross collects more than 6 million pints of blood annually, which it sells to hospitals for more than $225 a unit. That amounts to about $1.5 billion dollars a year, or 60 percent of the group’s $2.5 billion income.

Plus, the Red Cross is now the steward of nearly $500 million in monetary donations given after the Sept. 11 attacks. Concerns over the organization’s management of those funds figured into Red Cross President Bernadine Healy’s resignation. The Red Cross appears to be in trouble, and the charitable contributions of ordinary Americans are being squandered.

About 10 percent of the donated money has been set aside to create a 100,000-unit reserve of frozen blood, but critics point out that is a lot of money coming from funds intended as relief for Sept. 11 victims. Plus, with only a 42-day shelf life, many question whether any new facility would be ready to house donations in time. Some Red Cross blood-bank directors say the group collected between 250,000 and 400,000 more units of blood than it can handle – far more than even the capacity of the new, very expensive reserve.

The Red Cross needs to shape up and retool its management practices. Officials stood in the way of government efforts to encourage blood donors to delay their donations so they would not needlessly go unused – wise advice given the current situation. With better planning and management, hopefully the Red Cross could avoid future debacles like these.

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