Getting their blood up: Red Cross stumbles in transition

Gary Grant has been frustrated in his attempts to donate blood since the Red Cross took over Virginia Blood Services in November. Photo by Eze Amos Gary Grant has been frustrated in his attempts to donate blood since the Red Cross took over Virginia Blood Services in November. Photo by Eze Amos

By Shrey Dua

Although long-time blood donor Gary Grant arrived 15 minutes early for his March 7 appointment at the Red Cross, he and other would-be donors were sent home. The facility, a chapter office on Rose Hill Drive, did not have enough equipment.

“We got no notice, I drove 10 miles, and they told us our appointments were canceled and that the drive wouldn’t start for another hour,” he says. “This has been my experience the last two or three times I’ve been through the Red Cross.”

Grant, who has donated blood with various chapters around Virginia and spent a year volunteering at the Rose Hill Drive location, has also complained to the Red Cross about the lack of heating and the overcrowded, “messy” room where blood drives are held on Rose Hill.

Some donors believe this drop in quality to be a direct result of a transition the branch has been going through since Red Cross acquired the previous primary local blood collector, Virginia Blood Services, this past November.

Grant says he did everything the organization asked: Sign up online, complete his Rapid Pass to facilitate the process, and get there early. “But as soon as we got there, the phlebotomists told us, ‘We can’t take your appointments because the Red Cross didn’t send us enough equipment,’” Grant says.

Jim McVay, former president of the Central Virginia Chapter Red Cross and a regular blood donor since 1972, also has experienced problems at his appointments. “I’ve donated twice since Red Cross acquired VBS. In both cases there were a number of delays,” he says.

However, McVay feels donors should continue to support the Charlottesville chapter. “Just because Red Cross is going through a transition doesn’t mean we should give up on them,” he says. “Keep donating.”

Grant has contacted the national organization multiple times and continues to get apologies from customer-care coordinators.

Red Cross spokesperson Bernadette Jay says equipment was not functioning at the March 7 drive. “Unfortunately that did contribute to negative experiences for some of the donors.”

She says the Red Cross is working through the transition, and she urges community support, noting that she gets to see “the full circle” of people who get the blood they need. And she says the Red Cross makes sure hospitals are supplied.

Meanwhile, Grant has started donating at mobile drives held at various locations around Charlottesville, which he claims usually offer a better experience than what he’s had at the Rose Hill location—even though many of the mobile drives are also run by the Red Cross.

“For right now, I think donors have to be very careful of where they go to donate to make sure you won’t get deferred or get turned away,” he says. “I feel more confident that the blood drive will be more successful at places like hotels, ballrooms, and other off-site locations.”

That was before an April 1 drive at UVA, where he says walk-ins were turned away and he left because he didn’t feel safe after a phlebotomist botched his needle insertion and that of the donor before him.

Jay says she’s not sure about the details of that drive because it was still going on when she spoke to C-VILLE.

Says Grant, “I don’t know what the Red Cross is going through, but personally…I want them to be better.”

Correction April 4: The facility on Rose Hill Drive is a chapter office, not a blood services branch, and Rapid Passes are free, not purchased.