By Marino Bozic, Research Customer Relations Manager
When Governor Gavin Newsom issued a shelter-in-place order for California on March 19, the Research Customer Relations department had no playbook for how to handle a research program during a pandemic. The first and most important decision we made was to remain open for business. While we anticipated some researchers would put their projects on hold during this time, there were others for whom having their access to research products cut would be disastrous. For example, there are studies that have been ongoing for years and require samples at regular intervals to accurately measure a change over time. Research samples are also always needed to prime critical machines. And of course, during this pandemic, we knew ongoing access to research products would be critical to helping us understand and get that much closer to a vaccine and treatment for COVID-19.
Right away we put out a message on our website assuring our customers we were still working and available when needed, and, after much help from our Information Services team, the Research Customer Relations team was set up with work stations, phone and database access, critical software and everything else needed for remote work within just two days.
Despite our commitment to staying open, our work was not without challenges. Our first concern once the shelter in place began was being able to identify enough donors to fill research orders. For context, research orders tend to come in as same-day and next-day requests. Though we offer a wide range of products and services to support researchers’ initiatives, on a basic level, we can think of typical requests as nondescript bulk orders (e.g. tubes from 20 platelet donors) and demographic-specific orders (e.g. one tube from an Asian American female donor over the age of 50) that are collected during a regular donation. Both types of orders rely on our ability to consistently schedule a healthy number of donors at our center locations and mobile drives since the more donors we have who come in on any given day for regular donation, the more likely we are to collect blood from individuals who meet criteria needed for these important studies.
As expected, many donors had to cancel their appointments in those first few weeks, and our mobile partners had to cancel planned mobile drives as well. This made planning for research collections with the volume requested and within one- and two-day turnaround windows very challenging; toward the start of the shelter in place, we were unsure if we would retain enough donors at our centers to make up for all those lost collections. However, thanks to the overwhelming support of our amazing donors, our three centers filled up quickly. Though there was a higher level of scheduling and logistics needed by our team to ensure orders were going to be available, we did not have to — and still have not had to — turn a single researcher away during this pandemic!
The second challenge we faced had to do not with the ability to fill orders, but with the orders themselves. For two weeks after the shelter in place, we faced the logistical challenge of many researchers having to cancel their orders because their labs were closed and their experiments were cancelled or put on hold. We cancelled many orders last-minute as we did not want our Collections team collecting for research unnecessarily. We credited our research customers who didn’t even have time to notify us of their need to cancel orders as they reached out from home or by their personal email. We still had orders that were placed and not cancelled during the two weeks and we moved orders around to accommodate some of our researchers needing products sooner before they too were sent home.
However, the more exciting aspect of this situation was that, following these cancellations, we also were given the opportunity to support new researchers who were amazed we were open and reached out due to their need for specimens in order to start COVID-19 studies. To be part of these studies and support the research community without interruption has proven to be a wise decision — and one that we simply could not have followed through on without the support of our SBC donor family.
We are incredibly thankful to our donors, who are not only saving the lives of patients today, but also helping us continue to support research initiatives that could have significant impacts on the patients of tomorrow.
To read the rest of summer 2020 PULSE, click here.