Last year, a critical need for life-saving blood and plasma donations arose with two major complications: an extraordinary decrease in blood donations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and pandemic-related constraints to the healthcare supply chain, particularly in transportation logistics.
“Many healthcare systems use multiple carriers or couriers to deliver shipments, and can’t see where the shipment is as it’s moving from point A to point B,” said Melissa Laber, senior vice president and general manager of tech-enabled Cardinal Health OptiFreight® Logistics, which delivers total logistics management for the healthcare industry. “When volumes are high and delivery windows short, shipping can get costly. Healthcare providers, especially in emergency situations like a pandemic, simply do not have time or resources to manage this process manually.”
Resolving supply chain issues became an urgent priority last year for Blood Centers of America (BCA), whose members collect and provide over 50% of the total American blood supply. BCA members are key players in maintaining a secure supply of blood and plasma for hospitals. During the pandemic, they were asked to collect COVID-19 convalescent plasma (CCP) – a product that blood centers had not collected prior to the pandemic – to treat patients with COVID-19. (Because CCP is donated from people who have recovered from COVID-19, it carries valuable infection-fighting antibodies.)
BCA members had to reinvent the entire donation process. Most blood donation drives were hosted at companies and schools prepandemic; when so many of those facilities closed, BCA members pivoted to more fixed site and pop-up site collections, all while following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for social distancing and masks. The organization was also facing supply chain and staffing shortages: BCA works with hundreds of suppliers and relies on optimized shipping and logistics across its continuum of care to ensure the they can make these life-saving deliveries quickly. To help centralize shipping efforts, provide same-day delivery solutions, optimize visibility to shipments using real-time analytics, get deliveries quickly to point-of-care, and ultimately help save on shipping costs, BCA turned to OptiFrieght Logistics, one of its long-term partners.
By streamlining and automating BCA’s logistics process from end-to-end, OptiFreight Logistics helped ship more than 212,000 packages of critical supplies and convalescent plasma to hospitals – a 10% increase from 2019, and ramp up collection and delivery of CCP from zero to more than 20,000 doses per week. CCP often had to be transferred under strict temperature controls; multiple times, the experts at OptiFreight Logistics worked directly with the shipping carrier to intervene on CCP shipping issues, when shipments were rerouted or delayed beyond the limits of the container temperature requirements. (OptiFreight Logistics arranged to have the shipping containers re-iced with dry ice at the carrier facility.) As a result, BCA members were able to deliver nearly 700,000 CCP treatments in 2020, saving countless lives.
“Approximately half of the shipments were delivered overnight, due to the time-sensitive nature of critical blood supplies and convalescent plasma to hospitals,” said Jonathan Kernya, director of new business solutions for OptiFreight Logistics. “We provided heightened support for these overnight deliveries and mitigated delays so packages could be delivered as quickly as possible.”
To recognize the work in overcoming the unique challenges the pandemic posed to the blood and plasma donation field, BCA recently awarded OptiFreight Logistics one of its 10 brand-new Critical Infusion Awards.
“The pandemic did not stop the demand for blood and plasma donations – in fact, it significantly increased it in some cases,” said Bill Block, president and chief executive officer of BCA. “We are so grateful for OptiFreight Logistics and our other partners across the supply chain. They recognized the importance and need to get critical supplies and convalescent plasma to hospitals quickly.”
Currently, hospitals are seeing a spike in traumas and ER visits that rely on blood and plasma donations to save lives. Additionally, many hospitals have resumed nonessential surgeries and treatment options that were postponed last year and include the use of blood and blood components. Both of these factors are increasing the need for blood, yet blood donations continue to be lower than before 2020. The Red Cross announced in mid-June that the nation was again confronting a severe blood shortage.
As a former paramedic, Kernya understands the difference individual donations can make in emergency situations. “I had first-hand experiences with traumas and critical medical conditions, and there simply is no substitution for blood – it’s essential for patient care,” Kernya said. He recently helped BCA get educational resources to Cardinal Health employees to encourage donations, inspiring new donations from employees across the country. “With blood supplies at such dangerously low levels, every single pint counts,” Kernya said. “For those who are able to give – know that you are saving lives every time.”