A common question we get at SBC is “What’s the difference between donating at SBC and another blood center in the area?” And while we can’t provide details as to the inner workings of other blood centers, we can tell you what makes community blood centers, and SBC in particular, pretty special places to save lives.
First off, what is an “independent,” or, more commonly, “community” blood center? Essentially, they’re just what they sound like: small, locally based blood centers that have roots in providing for the community they’re in rather than falling back on an overarching national or regional affiliation. Though community blood centers have only one or a few fixed donation sites in their local area (think SBC’s Menlo Park, Mountain View and South Bay centers), collectively, community blood centers account for roughly 60% of all of the U.S. blood supply!
Though there are a number of benefits to communities being able to rely on an independent blood center, we’ll touch on a few main ones here.
- Ties to Local Hospitals
Because community blood centers are made to support patients at local hospitals first, their operations tend to have a great “finger on the pulse” as to what patients need on a daily basis. When a center has relationships with specific hospitals, they can track usage trends, stay on top of any major surgeries they know may be coming up and require extra units of a certain blood type and generally stay in close communication with transfusion medicine leadership to make sure that they are collecting exactly what is needed.
If you’ve been with SBC for a while, you have likely noticed our “daily need” chart on our home page, stanfordbloodcenter.org. What you may not know is that this chart is updated each morning, Monday through Friday, based on the actual numbers of units of each blood type we have ready for patients compared against the number of units we expect to be sending to our hospital partners that very day or week. Every morning, team members from all across SBC — blood inventory (e.g., the group that monitors what we have available to send to hospitals), research, collections, testing, communications and more — get together to discuss if we anticipate any patients with increased need and what we can expect to collect that day and the next few days to meet that ongoing need. Based on these discussions, not only do we update our website, but we also may prioritize calling certain blood types we know will be most needed, we may ask donors as they come in if they are willing to donate a double red blood cell donation if there is a higher need for their blood type that day, and we may even decide to send out a critical need email or get in touch with our local media if we are in a really tight pinch.
All of this quick strategizing is made possible because we have such close relationships with the hospitals we serve. Though it’s a lot of work to monitor patient need so closely, it means that we do a great job of not over-collecting any particular blood type and of prioritizing outreach to donors whose blood is immediately needed.
- Ties to Local Researchers
Though not all — and, in fact, not many — blood centers have a research program, SBC has research baked into its DNA. SBC was first created in the 1970s as part of Stanford Medicine and though in large part its purpose was to support the complex transfusion needs of Stanford Hospital and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, it was also designed with the goal of supporting research within the Stanford Medicine community.
Today, our research program is more robust than ever. Our close proximity to some of the best research institutions in the country, including Stanford University and SBC’s own research labs, means that we can support a wide range of research projects with the ability to radically transform patient care in the future. Some of the recent studies we have supported include an investigation into converting leukemia cells into harmless immune cells called macrophages, development of new allergy detection methods and defining bleeding risks in children undergoing cardiac surgery. We even supported a study to detect potential age-related changes in NASA astronauts!
In addition to getting to work on some really important studies, our location means that we can support both same-day and next-day requests for nearly all orders, giving researchers what they need when they need it most. And the best part is that our research program relies heavily on white blood cells and other parts of regular donations that would otherwise be discarded due to the fact that they cannot be transfused to hospital patients. SBC really values what our donors have to give, and we want to help you do the most good possible with each donation!
- Ties to Local Patients
Because we are a community blood center, we prioritize the care of local patients. And while we do at times support patients in other areas, particularly when there is a major disaster, you can feel pride in knowing that your donation is really going back into keeping your community healthy, that you’re serving as a rock for those most in need in our own backyard . And, if there were ever to be a disaster in our area, the blood you’ve donated would be on the front lines of keeping you and those around you safe should you ever need it.
While blood donation is anonymous, it’s profound to know that the next time one of your neighbors is undergoing chemotherapy, or your colleague is having a transplant surgery, or a friend has a premature birth, whatever it may be, that your local donation is part of the reason that there is enough blood available for them when they need it most. And while you may never donate directly to someone you know, your donations have the potential to transform so many lives in our community. We encourage you to review the patient stories we have on stanfordbloodcenter.org/sbc-stories and see the impact your donations have had in real individuals’ lives right here in our own Bay Area.