Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Red Cross: An American Disaster

The latest chapter in the catastrophic recent history of the organization Americans depend on for disaster relief is the revelation that the Red Cross, which collects and distributes almost half of the blood given to patients in this country, is so sloppy it may be endangering their lives.

The FDA has found "shortcomings in the way the Red Cross screens donors for possible exposure to infectious diseases, failures to swab arms properly before inserting needles, failures to test for syphilis and failures to discard potentially risky blood, among other deficiencies."

This comes after post-9/11 disclosures of embezzlement and mismanagement at Red Cross chapters across the country followed by a series of scandals that has led the Congressionally chartered charity to run through five leaders in the past six years, including an ouster last year of a new president after several months for engaging in a "personal relationship" with one of his subordinates.

For 15 years, the Red Cross has been under a federal court order to improve the way it collects and processes blood, but despite $21 million in fines since 2003, this January the FDA Commissioner warned board members they could face criminal charges for their continued failure to comply.

My experience as an editor persuaded me that the Red Cross was always better at promoting itself than helping people in trouble, as opposed to the Salvation Army, the American Friends Service Committee and other organizations that concentrate on being there for victims.

Now a New York Times editorial notes: "Some critics believe the Red Cross should sell off its blood banking services and stick to disaster relief, but that might present financial difficulties. The disaster relief activities are said to be heavily subsidized by blood banking revenues, although the organization’s financial systems are so antiquated that even its own top executives do not know for sure.

"At a minimum, Congress should explore ways to strengthen regulatory oversight and force the Red Cross to meet the highest safety standards."

Meanwhile, those who want to help people in trouble here at home and all over the world might take a closer look at the work of other relief organizations.


Anonymous said...

Hi. This is Wendy from the American Red Cross.

You are welcome to your opinion about the Red Cross but I am hoping to clear up a few points. I am not a blood expert, but I did ask people who are to weigh in with the following information:

The Red Cross is committed to fully complying with FDA regulations. You and the rest of the American public have the right to expect the safest possible blood and we are providing "some of the safest in the world."

Our new President & CEO Gail McGovern has made full compliance with FDA regulations her highest priority.

Our strategy is to focus on safety for everyone who gives and receives blood. We have implemented an aggressive structure to meet that strategy, driving standardization of processes so that we have one way of doing things - the right way and the same way - everywhere. We won't get there overnight but we are on the right path.

An important fact to point out is that people should not worry about contracting infectious disease from blood. In the last 10 years, the Red Cross has not distributed any units of blood that tested positive for syphilis, HIV, or hepatitis. We use state-of-the-art infectious disease testing and have systems in place to ensure that units which test positive for syphilis, HIV or hepatitis are not distributed. The Red Cross conducts approximately 12 different tests on each unit of blood before it is distributed.

I hope some of this information helps.

Thank you for the opportunity to leave a comment here.

Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)