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MCCH closes blood donation center

MURRAY – For 49 years, Murray-Calloway County Hospital has predominantly sourced its blood supply through the MCCH Blood Donor Center. While the hospital has relied on the American Red Cross over the years for assistance sourcing rare blood types or certain blood products, on Jan. 1, it will transition to meeting all of its blood supply needs through the Red Cross and close the Blood Donor Center.

MCCH CEO Jerry Penner said the decision to close the center was a difficult one to make, but it was also the right decision for the hospital.  

“We are one of two hospitals out of 128 in the state that still maintain our own donor services program,” Penner said. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Why is that?’ Well, you can read between the lines – we probably shouldn’t be doing it. I think we tend to hang onto things because nobody wants to be the one to close it down.”

In the summer of 2020, MCCH experienced a blood shortage as many of the loyal donors who kept the hospital’s coffers stocked with blood were either uncomfortable with or unable to come to the center to donate. “That was really a linchpin for us,” Penner said. “That was the trigger mechanism for, ‘Do we ever want to be in this situation again?’”

Penner cited evolving federal regulations, which periodically require equipment or technology upgrades to maintain compliance, among the considerations for closing the center.

“We’ve always got a lot of oversight from government agencies trying to make sure we’re doing everything we need to do, and that comes at a cost,” he said. “It’s not as easy as, ‘We’ve got a blood donor center, and life is good.’ (For example), we have to maintain our certification – and kudos to Janet Valadez (MCCH Blood Donor Coordinator) and her team for all their hard work to do that. Red Cross has to do the same thing, but they’re able to spread a lot of those costs around where little Murray-Calloway County Hospital does not have that same capability.”

In the end, it came down to concerns over impending technology upgrades that would make maintaining the center unfeasible.

MCCH is currently in the process of transitioning all of its service lines, including physicians’ practices, to a unified electronic medical record system (EMR). The multi-million-dollar project – MCCH plans to invest $15 million in the system over the next 10 years – has been a topic of discussion for several years.

Finally, in February, representatives from two different EMR providers – CERNER (which was subsequently purchased by Oracle Health) and Meditech – spent a week demonstrating their platforms to hospital staff. Ultimately, the hospital’s IT steering committee chose Oracle. In November, select MCCH staff traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, for training, and on-site training began this month. According to the project timeline, they will begin testing the system in April and prepare to fully launch the platform organization-wide in September.

The problem is that Oracle’s platform is not designed to accommodate blood-banking operations as it lacks the fundamental donor management software.

“They’ve never had that built into their system, and the reason is because nobody does it,” Penner explained. “We’re also looking ahead in this decision. Now, what I would have to do is go out and buy another electronic medical record system (for the donor center). That doesn’t make any sense because the reason I’m getting (Oracle) is to consolidate all of my medical record keeping into one single platform. It’s defeating the purpose. To say, ‘If we need another EMR for blood-banking, let’s go buy another EMR,’ that’s not a good business decision.”

All of the center’s employees have been offered other positions in the hospital. “No one is losing a job,” Penner said. Freeing up those employees will help address some personnel shortages in related departments, such as the lab. “This gives us the opportunity to use the people we have in better places.”

“It’s not a ‘service line’ that we’re losing,” he clarified. “I’m still going to have blood banking operations. It’s the donor portion that is closing. I hate to say this, but is it vital to our hospital’s operation? And the answer is no because I can get it another way.

“Losing cardiology would be tough. Losing oncology would be tough. Losing OB would be tough. Those are true service lines that are not replaceable. This is duplicating an effort. If I’ve got another agency that can potentially do this better than me, then doesn’t it make sense that I let them do it better than I’m doing it?”

To Penner, it is illogical for MCCH to continue to operate the center simply because it has done so for nearly half a century when the Red Cross is able to provide the same service. He likened it to the sale of Spring Creek Skilled Nursing and Rehab Center in 2021. 

“We didn’t lose Spring Creek as an asset to our community; it’s still here,” he said. “We’ve probably held onto our donor center longer than we should have. At what point do you say, ‘Why aren’t we like everyone else? Why are we doing things differently?’ If we’re doing it better, then you do it because it’s better. If we’re not doing it better, then chances are you need to say the right answer is that we probably need to let this go. This is a business we can get out of, and we don’t get hurt at all. It might make a donor or two unhappy, but they can still donate to the Red Cross.”

The Red Cross is holding several blood drives across the region throughout January, including three in Murray:

· Thursday, Jan. 4, at the First Presbyterian Church located at 1601 Main Street from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

· Tuesday, Jan. 16, at Southwest Calloway Elementary School located at 3426 Wiswell Road from noon until 5 p.m.

· Thursday, Jan. 18, at St. John’s Episcopal Church located at 1620 Main Street from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Appointments can be scheduled by visiting the website redcrossblood.org, calling 800-733-2767, or downloading the American Red Cross Blood Donor App.

Sentinel Staff

Jessica Paine
I’m Jessica Paine, founder of The Murray Sentinel. You may know me from my time as a citizen journalist, running the Calloway Covid-19 Count page on Facebook, or you may be familiar with my more recent work for another local news outlet. Being that I’m “from here,” you may have known me since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although you knew me as Jessica Jones. But whether you know me or not, I’m glad you found your way here.

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