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UCMH, Marsh form blood tie

Unicoi County Memorial Hospital will not renew its contract with the American Red Cross when its contract runs out in September and will, instead, partner with Kingsport-based Marsh Regional Blood Center.
Hospital CEO Jim Pate said there were three reasons to sever ties with the Red Cross and join with Marsh – 1) cost savings; 2) speed and need; and 3) neighbors helping neighbors.
“We’ve been in the process of partnering with Marsh for a while,” Pate said, “and it won’t officially happen for a couple of weeks. Basically this is something we’ve looked at for some time.”
UCMH was the only hospital in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia – other than the James H. Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center – that was still being serviced by Charlotte, N.C.-based American Red Cross rather than Kingsport-based Marsh Regional Blood Center.
Marsh is owned by Kingsport-based Wellmont Health System. Last year, Marsh partnered with Johnson City-based Mountain States Health Alliance to provide blood for its hospitals in Virginia and Tennessee, including Johnson City Medical Center and Franklin Woods Community Hospital.
Marsh is the first independent blood center in the region and, for more than 60 years, has been the largest hometown supplier of blood and blood products in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. The mission of Marsh Regional has been to collect and maintain blood supplies to meet local needs.
Pate said after Mountain States partnered with Marsh, it was only a matter of time before UCMH would also come on board. While UCMH maintains its own blood supply, the Erwin hospital had been able to borrow blood from JCMC when needed.
After Mountain States left the American Red Cross, the borrowing of blood between JCMC and UCMH was no longer possible.
Pate said UCMH will see “pretty reasonable” cost savings by partnering with Marsh and could eventually see even more savings if Unicoi County-based blood drives are successful.
“We can see even more of a discount if local drives do well,” Pate said, “so we will be promoting that in the coming weeks and months. Once we get up to a certain level of donations from Unicoi County citizens, our cost will go down, too.”
The second reason to move to Marsh, Pate said, was the speed in which blood can be delivered. With the Red Cross, blood had to be requested from Charlotte, N.C., but now the request only has to go to Marsh’s offices in Kingsport.
“If we need special blood quickly, there was a time factor involved with Charlotte,” Pate said. “The Red Cross has a substation in Asheville, N.C., and they would bring it to us, but partnering with Marsh is a much better decision for us.
“This is nothing against the Red Cross. They’ve done a good job getting us what we needed, but with the Med Center moving to Marsh, we needed to make the switch, too. Marsh will have pretty much anything we need. We are pleased to start working with Marsh.”
Thirdly, Pate said, partnering with Marsh will mean “neighbors helping neighbors.”
“I guess in the end, blood is blood,” Pate said, “but when people donate to Marsh, that blood stays right here in this region to help people who live here. It doesn’t go to Charlotte or somewhere else. It stays right here, and that’s important.
“This blood is going to stay here and help local hospitals and local people. That really impressed me about Marsh.”
In presentations, Marsh officials, Pate said, “never tried to say anything bad about the Red Cross.”
“So many times, people wanting your business will bad mouth everybody and everything to get business, but Marsh has a good organization.”
Pate said “everything is flowing smoothly” for the transition to take place from the Red Cross to Marsh. He said Red Cross officials have been understanding, too.
“They know it was a business decision and a convenience thing for us,” he said. “When we get fully on the Marsh contract, if we have something just really quick, we can go to the Medical Center and get it and transfer it from their books to us.
“Most of the time, we’ve got the blood here that we need – probably for 95 percent of the people in the area, but you always have the possibility that you’re going to get a patient who needs a special type of blood or compound in the blood to make that perfect match. With Marsh and the Med Center we will be able to have access to that blood if we need it.”