Blood Bank of Alaska employees file complaint with FDA

Friday, September 16, 2016 - 13:12
  • Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, left, chats with Blood Bank of Alaska CEO Bob Scanlon on Sept. 1 after donating a pint of blood and signing a proclamation that September is Alaska Blood Drive and Donation Challenge Month. A week earlier, a group of employees filed a complaint to the Food and Drug Administration alleging mismanagement and financial improprieties against the blood bank leadership. (Photo / Office of Gov. Bill Walker)

The Blood Bank of Alaska could not fill the order of Providence Medical Center the day it had its grand opening, according to a group of employees who filed a complaint to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration charging BBA leadership with mismanagement and financial impropriety leading to dangerous donor conditions and blood shortages.

Blood bank representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

In correspondence with Linda Soriano, the blood bank’s former grant writer, the FDA confirmed receipt of the complaint, but is not able to comment on ongoing investigations.

Soriano spearheaded a group of employees whose names are being held confidential by the FDA that filed the complaint on Aug. 26, alleging that the blood bank has been shedding donors as the result of a vigorous campaign to supply the blood needs of both Alaska and a California blood bank it has an export contract with.

Soriano served as the Blood Bank of Alaska’s grant writer since 2012 and as development manager since 2015. She tendered her letter of resignation on Sept. 11. Prior, she worked as the grants officer for Christian Health Associates and Providence Health & Services Alaska, the company that owns Providence Medical Center Alaska.

Soriano blames the alleged blood bank shortages on costs of the new building.

“The irony is that BBA could have built a $33M facility that was right-sized for Alaska’s needs and moved into it debt free,” Soriano wrote in an email. “All of the corner cutting, exporting and lack of financial transparency could have been avoided if we hadn’t gone forward with the Taj Mahal of blood banks.”

Despite repeated appeals to state and federal elected officials, Soriano said she has had no luck finding actionable way to address the blood bank’s issues. After conversations with state Sen. Berta Gardener and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Soriano lamented that no government agency apart from the Food and Drug Administration oversees the blood bank.

“The real anguish of the summer came from seeing the inability of well-meaning people in powerful positions to intervene in a serious and potentially life-threatening situation that could affect every Alaskan,” she wrote to the Journal.

“These people all urged me on, but no State or local agency has jurisdiction over the Blood Bank. Getting through those three holiday weekends — Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor Day — was excruciating.”

According to the complaint, the blood bank has a “severe and ongoing lack of inventory” due to blood export contracts made to meet the expense of the blood bank’s new building loan.

After moving into its $45.7 million, 57,000 square foot building earlier this year, the Blood Bank of Alaska entered an agreement with LifeStream, a California blood center, to export 100 pints of blood per week, all the while ramping up recruitment for more donors in Alaska.

The building was funded with $32.8 million from the state capital budget, an $8.5 million loan from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, and a $3 million donation from ConocoPhillips.

In prior interviews, blood bank board members and CEO Bob Scanlon have insisted that such export agreements are commonplace in the industry. No Alaska hospitals, they said, have been shorted on blood supply.

They said the blood export agreement with LifeStream has no connection to the building’s finances, but is simply a way for the BBA to more effectively manage blood to maximize efficiency.

On Sept. 1, Gov. Bill Walker dropped by the Blood Bank of Alaska to donate a pint and proclaimed the month of September the Alaska Blood Drive and Donation Challenge Month.

“To help increase participation in blood donations and ensure an adequate supply of blood, all Alaskans who are eligible to donate are encouraged to donate their gift of life at least once a year,” read the proclamation, “and State agencies are challenged to sponsor four blood drives in the next year of 2017.”

The proclamation also stated that, “Blood Bank of Alaska needs to collect 100 units each day to meet the needs of hospitals and communities across Alaska.”

The complaint claims BBA has struggled with shortages since late spring when it moved into the new building.

On the day of the new building’s grand opening ceremony May 20, Soriano and a colleague found six or sevens units of O negative and trays of AB negative, the latter of which the Director of Hospital Services said none of the hospitals wanted. May 20 fell on a Friday. BBA ships blood units to California every Thursday.

After the grand opening, Soriano and several BBA employees warned Alaska’s largest hospitals — Alaska Regional Hospital, Providence Medical Center, and Alaska Native Medical Center Hospital — of the shortage.

“I worried about the lack of blood all weekend and decided to call an acquaintance who is in leadership at one of the major hospitals,” she wrote to the Journal.

“He was deeply concerned, and within a few days, his hospital was insisting that BBA keep it fully stocked with blood at all times. Although I was unaware of it at the time, a colleague at BBA had the same concerns and was notifying other hospitals that we could not adequately support them in an emergency.”

Providence did not confirm or deny the shortage in an emailed statement.

“The Blood Bank of Alaska has consistently provided uninterrupted service to Providence Alaska Medical Center, including during its recent move into a new building,” wrote senior manager of external communications Mikal Canfield to the Journal.

“The blood bank worked with Providence prior to the move to ensure we had enough blood supply to meet our requests during the move.”

 The complaint said BBA has run low on blood several times since then, and has tried to import blood from Outside without any luck due to national blood shortages.

To secure more blood, BBA has increased donor recruitment and donor collections. According to Soriano, “donors are besieged by texts, emails and robo-calls that are causing many longtime donors to remove their names from our lists permanently. “

According to the complaint, the need for more export blood led to overdrawing some donors and to drawing less than usual from others in order to meet the demands of the LifeStream contract.

“Recently the BBA medical director asked if I could get grant funding for soft furniture and carpeting in the donor recovery area because ‘donors keep face planting,’” Soriano wrote in the complaint to the FDA.

“She said that reactions were increasing, and one woman had broken a bone or bones in her face when she fell.”

The BBA employees say leadership has a record of financial impropriety, alleging Scanlon gave Soriano inaccurate financial reports to submit to potential BBA grant givers, including a projection of $25,000 to $41,000 per month in unrestricted gifts, which BBA has no history of receiving, Soriano said.

“The financials are definitely being manipulated to make BBA’s financial situation appear more stable than it is,” Soriano wrote to the Journal.

 When she asked for budgets to present to grant givers, she received numbers that were “clearly incorrect and showed the monthly (line of credit) payment as $26K when it was actually $47K a month per an email I later received from the CEO,” Soriano wrote in the complaint.

In previous interviews, Scanlon confirmed that the monthly payment on the new building was roughly $40,000. Soriano said she recently received updated financials with year-to-date actuals through June 30 that appear more realistic.

In search for more funding, during an August meeting Scanlon asked Murkowski’s Chief of Staff Michael Pawlowski and Legislative Director Garrett Boyle for a $2 million federal grant and an FDA waiver to import blood directly from Canada.

Karina Peterson, Murkowski’s director of communications, confirmed that the meeting took place and involved the requests Soriano described in the complaint, though she didn’t confirm Soriano’s characterization of Scanlon as “belligerent.”

 

DJ Summers can be reached at daniel.summers@alaskajournal.com

 

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