Brian Lee, senior blood bank technician at Cumberland Medical Center, crossmatches blood samples to ensure a compatible match for patients.

Cumberland Medical Center keeps a variety of blood products on hand to provide life-saving transfusions for patients seriously injured in accidents, suffering the side effects of cancer treatments or undergoing surgical procedures.

Those blood products come from individuals donating to MEDIC Regional Blood Center, which provides those products for CMC and Covenant Health. 

“We need the donors. Without them, we have nothing to give our patients,” said Brian Lee, senior blood bank technician at CMC. 

Blood providers across the country have issued calls for more donations as stockpiles of blood products fall. MEDIC, based in Knoxville, has a critical need for O-positive, O-negative and A-positive blood donations. 

It takes three days for donated blood to be tested, processed and readied for distribution to hospitals. MEDIC says blood for trauma incidents comes from supplies currently on the shelf, and inventory is critically low. New donations require three days to test and process before they are sent to one of the 25 hospitals in MEDIC’s 22-county service area. 

Locally, donors can give blood at the MEDIC donation center, 79 N. Main St. The center is open Tuesday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the first Saturday each month from 8 a.m. to noon.

Susie Foust, phlebotomist at the center, said it takes about 30 to 45 minutes to donate blood. That includes time for the short physical and medical background screening. 

The Crossville center can accept platelet and double red cell donations, as well. Platelet donations take about an hour to an hour and a half and require an appointment, but all other donors are welcome to drop in during business hours. 

Donors must be at least 16 years old with parental consent. Donors 17 and older do not need parental consent.

“And there’s no upper age limit as long as you’re in good health,” Foust said.

“People should drink plenty of water and have a good meal before they come in,” said Foust. “It prevents a lot of reactions.”

Whole blood donors must wait 56 days between donations and 112 days between double red cell donations. Platelets can be donated every seven days.

“It’s crucial that we have platelets,” Foust said, noting that product helps cancer and burn patients. 

Donors also get one year of credit with MEDIC. Should the donor or a member of the immediate family need blood products in the next year, the credit covers the processing fee at MEDIC-associated hospitals. 

Foust said giving blood is good for anyone. 

“I have people tell me they have more energy and feel better,” she said.

Some folks are squeamish about the needle stick. Brookelyn Cox, phlebotomist, said it’s a small sting and then it’s over.

“If you talk to them and look away, you don’t even know it’s in,” she said. 

As an incentive for donors, MEDIC is entering all donors in a drawing to win a fall sports package from the University of Tennessee. The package includes a $250 gift card for UT sports and other football-themed goods.

Summer and its vacations and busy schedules often lead to reduced blood donations, as do holidays. 

“And you have a higher need in the summer and around holidays because there are more accidents,” said Madeline Hibbard, CMC lab manager. 

CMC has reduced its normal volume of blood products, which include whole blood, platelets, plasma and cryoprecipitate. 

“Oncology patients make up the bulk of our transfusion patients,” Lee said. “Accidents and trauma cases are the wild cards. You never know what you’re going to see.”

CMC has also seen an increased need for blood due to higher patient counts over the summer due to regional hospital closures. 

“Normally we hit a lull in June and July, and we haven’t this summer,” Hibbard said. “That makes wary of flu season, which is only two months away. We’re making sure we’re fully staffed and fully stocked.”

Patients must have their blood typed and screened for possible antigens before they receive a transfusion to insure blood products are compatible. Blood products must be tested to ensure crossmatches. 

Patients who have had transfusions in the past may have developed antibodies to certain properties in donated blood. The blood bank needs to make sure the blood a person receives doesn’t have the antigens that could cause a dangerous reaction. 

“The more antibodies you have, the harder it is to find a compatible match,” Lee said.

Patients are typed and screened when admitted so that the blood bank is ready should complications arise, particularly for the labor and delivery department. 

When emergency patients come in, the blood bank needs to have blood ready to go in 4 minutes. 

“We’ve got to stay on top of patient blood needs, even if a patient doesn’t get blood,” Hibbard said.

The CMC lab includes an Echo Blood Bank Analyzer that automates screening and crossmatching. This helps the lab operate on night shift when staffing levels are lower. 

“It saves us so much time,” Lee said. “It’s another one of us in an automated format.”

The machine checks for known antibodies, crossmatches, and provides consistent readings for graded reactions. It’s especially helpful if a patient tests positives for antibodies. The manual process to identify those antigens is labor intensive, Lee said.

The technicians serve as a resource for physicians on when patients may need a transfusion based on recommended guidelines. 

The blood bank also carefully tracks the expiration date of blood products. Platelets must be used within three days and whole blood remains usable for three weeks. Frozen products — plasma and cryoprecipitate — can be stored for several months.

If the blood bank is nearing an expiration date, they’ll work with MEDIC to find a use for those blood products. 

“We want to use all the resources that we have,” Hibbard said. 

CMC has 37 employees working in the lab, and 10 to 12 are trained to work in the blood bank. They rotate through the blood bank regularly to ensure their skills remain sharp in that specialized area of laboratory work. 

The CMC lab recently completed its state recertification, required every two years, with no deficiencies. 

“They always scrutinize the blood bank,” Hibbard said. “We’re continuously trying to improve our processes and it shows on that recertification. You can’t rush that. It’s a reflection of things we’re doing correctly every day the last two years.”

It will have its Joint Commission review in 2020.


Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at