The American Red Cross said last month that it will centralize control of its 45 blood centers.
The sweeping restructuring continues a three-year-old effort to standardize operations at the nation's largest supplier of blood. In 1991, the Red Cross said it would adopt a single computer system and would create centralized laboratories to test blood products.
In May 1993, the Food and Drug Administration ordered the Red Cross to standardize training and to establish a quality-control process. The FDA said the Red Cross failed to correct repeated violations of quality-control standards at several of its centers.
Problems at the Red Cross are one factor behind stricter FDA enforcement at all of the nation's 2,500 blood centers, observers said (March 7, p. 48). New technology to test for blood-borne diseases, such as HIV, also has changed the industry.
Hospitals, however, aren't likely to notice the Red Cross' most recently announced changes because they are mostly internal, blood-bank directors said.
More than 3,000 U.S. hospitals rely on the Red Cross, which supplies one-half of the nation's blood supply, for blood products. Hospitals also work with local centers to organize blood drives.
The Washington, D.C.-based organization said that it soon will name a new head for blood operations. Its current head, Peter Tomasulo, M.D., resigned in the restructuring.
The Red Cross also said it will create new positions for regulatory affairs, information systems and strategic planning. Regional blood boards no longer will control local budgets or personnel policies. Some 15,500 people, now employees of local regions, will become employees of the national organization.
"This is probably inevitable," said Gary Becker, M.D., principal officer of the Badger-Hawkeye Region of the American Red Cross, which serves 200 hospitals in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin. "The organization is going through a major upheaval as it converts to a pharmaceutical industry. Blood banking was a relatively simple industry. It has become complex."