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Local blood bank to disband: Mississippi Headwaters Blood Bank to cease operations as Sanford moves to receive products from South Dakota facility

Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer Phlebotomist Laura Kissel with the Mississippi Headwaters Blood Bank located in Sanford Bemidji Medical Center preps David Carlson, one of 20 people registered to give blood, Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 19, 2014. The blood bank plans to cease operation after 55 years in Bemidji.

BEMIDJI — The Mississippi Headwaters Blood Bank is preparing to cease operations as Sanford Bemidji Medical Center transitions to using blood products from Sanford Health’s facility in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Sanford Bemidji Medical Center notified the blood bank the hospital would “discontinue its role in the collection and processing of donor units” this month, according to a Feb. 4 letter to the blood bank from Robert J. Belanger, director of laboratory services for Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota.

That means the blood bank -- which has been operating in Bemidji for the past 55 years -- no longer will have a facility from which to draw blood, said Carol Berg, president of the MHBB board of directors.

“Therefore, if the Mississippi Headwaters Blood Bank does not have a spot to do this, we cannot ask donors to come in and donate,” she said. “After some long discussion of several options, we just felt that because of the situation and the changes that are occurring today, that the Mississippi Headwaters Blood Bank would need to disband.”

Joy Johnson, chief operations officer for Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota, said the hospital had been discussing the local blood bank as screening and testing of blood products became more highly regulated and labor-intensive in response to the numbers of blood-borne diseases.

“It’s just become clear to us that it isn’t an efficient process for us to do that (screening and processing) on such a small scale,” Johnson said.

Less than half of the blood products at the Bemidji hospital come from the Mississippi Headwaters Blood Bank, Johnson said, adding that the more complicated products come from the Twin Cities-based Memorial Blood Centers.

“We could provide the red blood cells (locally) because it's the least complicated, but a lot of the complicated blood products, like plasma, irradiated blood, those kind of (products), we’ve had to use Memorial,” Johnson said, stressing that the hospital has had a great relationship with the MHBB and is greatly appreciative of its efforts and support through the years.

Founded in 1959

The Mississippi Headwaters Blood Bank was founded in 1959 by the Ralph Gracie American Legion Post at the then-named Bemidji Hospital, according to the blood bank’s website. It replaced the previous system that used various veteran organizations for donations.

Berg, president of the MHBB board, said she did not believe the change stemmed solely from Sanford’s arrival into the community.

“We at the Mississippi Headwaters Blood Bank still continued to do what needed to be done, doing the reports that needed to be done, and the staff there at Sanford, which were at one time Bemidji Hospital, they're the same people. I don’t feel that (relationship) has changed,” she said. “I think this has been a blow that we had not expected, but it’s kind of the process of …. it’s a change that maybe has to occur just because we are now in 2014, we’re not back 10, 20 years ago.”

The blood bank’s last day of collection is set for Feb. 26. More than 500 people regularily donate to the blood bank. The legal process for disbandment -- which will including a public meeting -- could take several months, Berg said.

Johnson said no job loss will stem from the change; Sanford employees who worked with the blood bank on collection dates will be reassigned to other duties related to patient care.

“The blood bank had a significant mission, and we’re grateful for the long partnership that we’ve had with Mississippi Headwaters,” Johnson said. “They were sort of the pioneers in getting the Bemidji community to be a blood-giving community, which we want to continue.”

She and Berg said blood drives will continue in the community, both through the American Red Cross and the Memorial Blood Center and encouraged local blood donors to continue their efforts.

“As the board of directors has been meeting and discussing this, we all felt very strongly that we want to encourage the Mississippi Headwaters Blood Bank donors and members to continue to donate, to the other blood center and supplies that come in,” Berg sad.