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The battle for blood: Mission Health changes blood supplier

coverLoyal blood donors will no longer see the iconic red cross on the side of the blood mobile next time they give blood at one of Mission Health’s 17 facilities in Western North Carolina.

Mission has signed a new contract with The Blood Connection, a regional blood bank out of Piedmont, South Carolina, to be its sole provider of blood for the next three years.

SEE ALSO: Blood donors show loyalty to Red Cross

“We provided supplemental blood supply for Mission for a couple of years, and once their contract (with the Red Cross) was up, they re-evaluated and found that we better met their needs,” said Donna Ehrlich, marketing and public relations manager for Blood Connection.

Red Cross, the nation’s largest blood collection organization, has contracted with Mission for 30 years. This new agreement means that The Blood Connection will be holding blood drives at Mission’s hospitals.

Blood donations to the Red Cross are sent to partnering hospitals all over the country, but Blood Connection has guaranteed Mission that all blood donated through its organization will stay local for the benefit of the community.

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“The decision to change blood suppliers was not based on quality reasons as much as it was about the availability of products,” said Priscilla Cherry, system executive director of laboratory services at Mission Health. “Our patients can be assured that the blood supplied for Mission Health has always been of the safest and highest quality. We are excited to begin this new partnership with The Blood Connection and anticipate many years of successful collaboration.”


What is Blood Connection?

Founded in 1979, The Blood Connection is a nonprofit community blood center that collects, processes and distributes blood products and services for local and regional hospitals. 

The blood bank is based in Piedmont, South Carolina, and currently serves upstate South Carolina, some of Western North Carolina and Stephens County, Georgia. It has contract agreements with Mission, the VA Hospital in Asheville, Pardee Hospital and Park Ridge Health in Hendersonville and St. Luke’s Hospital in Columbus.

Ehrlich said Blood Connection offers several advantages over Red Cross, including being regional, doing all biologic processing in-house and having a quick turnaround time at the lab, which is used to help determine specifics in blood types. 

“We have an extensive blood supply — our goal is to collect 500 units every day,” she said. “We have 13 blood mobiles, inside setups for large blood drives, and we do it seven days a week.”

Blood Connection has a donation center in Hendersonville and has mobile blood drives all over the region. Donors can also give platelets and plasma at the Hendersonville center. A majority of the people found running a Red Cross blood drive are volunteers, but Blood Connection’s drives are operated by employees.

“We’re a nonprofit that shares the same life-saving mission as Red Cross,” Ehrlich said. “The big difference is we are regional. They have a national mission — they provide 40 percent of the national blood supply, and the rest is dependent on individual blood banks like ours.”

All the Blood Connection’s supply is committed to contracting hospitals, but if there is ever any left over, Ehrlich said it could be sent out of the region to help other areas in need. For example, Blood Connection could send extra blood to the coast via the Red Cross if a natural disaster occurred. 

And vice versa — if Blood Connection for some reason couldn’t meet a sudden increase in need at the hospitals it contracts with, it would turn to Red Cross for more supply. 

“Fortunately, we’ve never run out — we’ve never had that situation, but we all share that lifesaving mission, and I imagine we would reach out to (Red Cross) because we guarantee the hospitals,” Ehrlich said.

But the other big difference has to do with cost. Ehrlich said its board of directors mandated that its fees be set 15 percent below the national average. The Blood Connection centralizes donor recruitment, blood collection and inventory management to more efficiently reduce waste, prevent delayed surgeries and provide local hospitals with efficiencies. 

These initiatives also allow for cost reductions, and closely mirrors Mission Health’s mission: “to get each patient to the desired outcome, first without harm, also without waste and with an exceptional experience for the patient and family.”

Like Red Cross, Ehrlich said, Blood Connection has a solid donor base, but she admits that Blood Connection doesn’t have the donor loyalty in Western North Carolina at this point. As the blood bank begins to schedule more mobile drives in the area, it hopes to educate more people about its local mission. 

“We promote blood donation. If you’re loyal with Red Cross, we applaud that,” she said. “But we also want to educate people because we know they do it because they’re helping fellow community members.” 

As an incentive to recruit and retain new donors, Blood Connection has a Donor Retention Program that encourages first-time donors to return throughout the year to receive rewards. The program is geared toward attracting younger donors who can receive music download cards and Starbucks gift cards.

“It is our true honor to be partnering with Mission Health,” Delisa English, Blood Connection’s president and CEO, said in a press release. “We are committed to providing excellent blood products and services to the hospitals and communities we serve.”

For more information about The Blood Connection, visit 


Contract with Mission

Blood Connection is still pretty unknown in Western North Carolina, but the new contract with Mission Health will likely increase the blood bank’s visibility in the region. 

Mission’s hospitals include Angel Medical Center in Franklin, Blue Ridge Regional Hospital, Highlands-Cashiers Hospital, McDowell Hospital in Marion and Transylvania Regional Hospital in Brevard.

Cherry said Mission’s decision to switch from Red Cross to Blood Connection really came down to a supply and demand issue. 

“We were having issues with getting supply of certain components,” she said. “We provide trauma services for 18 counties, so we need to have sufficient inventory on hand.” 

Blood Connection has been a supplemental supplier for Mission for several years and finally reached a point where it could manage being the sole provider. Cherry said after having supply problems for a while contracting with Red Cross, Mission put out a request for proposals and found Blood Connection had the best bid. 

All hospital administrations participated in reviewing the applications and agreed unanimously that Blood Connection was the best bet. Cherry said contractual costs of blood products are confidential; however, she did confirm that the new agreement with The Blood Connection provides cost-savings to Mission.

“It’s a better cost for the hospital and a better relationship,” Cherry said. “All the hospitals were impressed with what they were doing and have had a positive experience with them — and if they’re happy, I’m happy.”

Cherry said the blood inventory on reserve at the hospital depended on the blood type and the standards set by the American Association of Blood Banks. By using Blood Connection, she said, the blood collected here stays here. She added that blood collected here through the Red Cross has to be sent to the regional center in Charlotte and then is redistributed anywhere needed. 

Mission knows it will be a difficult task to convert Red Cross donors into Blood Connection donors. 

“We’re trying to get the word out to let people know they are not a new supplier and asking to please support them,” Cherry said. “There’s always going to be competition, but we need to let donors know this is the center we’re using.”

Harris Regional Hospital, Swain County Hospital and Haywood Regional Medical Center currently contract with Red Cross for blood. In January, Rutherford Regional Health System announced it would be contracting with American Red Cross again for its blood supplier. Previously, RRHS had contracted with The Blood Connection since the fall of 2012, but the hospital recently entered into a joint venture with Duke LifePoint Healthcare, and all Duke LifePoint hospitals have a contractual arrangement with Red Cross. 

“The move in no way reflects a dissatisfaction with The Blood Connection, and we greatly appreciate the service that organization provided us over the last two years,” said Matt Webber, administrative director of marketing and business development with RRHS.



Upcoming Blood Connection blood drives

• 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 19 at Mission Hospital, 501 Biltmore Ave., Asheville.

• 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at McDowell Hospital, 430 Rankin Drive, Marion.

• 7:30 a.m.-noon Feb. 27 at Reuter Family YMCA, 3 Town Square Blvd., Asheville.

Blood donation appointments can be scheduled by calling 828.213.2222, option #2.


2013 blood collections

Plasma 4,361 units

Platelets 23,059 units

Red blood cells 1,397 units

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