Red Cross continues unsafe blood collection practices
The American Red Cross has been under court-ordered supervision for 15 years, as a result of its unsafe practices in blood collection. In 2003, it was fined $21 million dollars as the federal court became frustrated with its failure to make progress in improving its procedures. This year, the governing board was warned that it would be charged criminally if it did not make progress. The New York Times reports that some critics think that the blood services operations should be transferred to a different entity, as happened in Canada 10 years ago.
Among the problems cited: shortcomings in screening donors for disease; failure to spend enough time swabbing skin prior to insertion of needles; failure to test blood for syphilis; and failure to discard deficient blood. These problems are disclosed in publicly available FDA reports which, according to the NYT, cite hundreds of lapses. For example, in the latest report, covering December 2006 through April 2008, the FDA uncovered the transmission and distribution of some 200 blood products that had already been identified as problematic. The contamination has, in some cases, placed recipients at risk for hepatitis, malaria and syphilis, however, since the Red Cross has failed to investigate or follow-up, no one has documented the actual incidence of contamination to recipients.
This problem is a travesty when you consider that the Red Cross controls 43 percent of the nation's blood supply. Blood operations generated 2.1 billion dollars in revenue for the agency during fiscal 2007. On the brighter side, our blood supply is perhaps the safest in the world and the Red Cross does a good job of testing for HIV and hepatitis B. Experts in the industry say, though, that we have the resources to eliminate virtually all risks of blood contamination in such a large and lucrative system, however, the Red Cross "just doesn't get it", and regulators have been too cozy with the Agency for too long.
This is a good example of a situation where imposing liability and making an entity responsible for causing individual injury--and perhaps providing for punitive damages in appropriate cases--can assist in compelling improvement in safety and responsibility.