Special Report: Blood Money

Panama City - Northwest Florida Blood Services is part of a statewide not-for-profit organization that regularly calls on people to donate blood. Their calls for help are often tied to natural catastrophes. But did you know the blood you donate is actually sold to local hospitals at a profit?

Florida Blood Services' 2010 tax return contains numbers that might surprise you. Tax documents filed by the St. Petersburg based not-for-profit show it made a profit from operations of about $3.2 million dollars last year. That's after covering $116 million in expenses and paying their executives big salaries and bonuses. But the company's vice president says there is more to the story.

The numbers don't lie: $129 million brought in during 2010, nearly $93 million from the sale of blood to hospitals. But Florida Blood Services Vice President JB Gaskins says the $3.2 million operations net profit is necessary to keep the not-for-profit pumping. "People have the misnomer that not-for-profits don't generate income. We are a fee-for-service organization, just like a hospital might be, just like a church might be. You have to generate income to pay the bills," said Gaskins.

The primary source of blood for dozens of Florida hospitals, no one can argue, Florida Blood Services provides a lifesaving service. "It costs millions of dollars every year to recruit, to collect, to test, to process, to store and distribute, to make sure that blood is safe for patient usage," said Gaskins.

And in fact they do so at a lower cost than many other blood collection organizations, including the Red Cross. "The blood that they draw stays in our area. Price is always an issue because that is passed along to the patients who receive those units and they were the lowest cost provider for us," said Bay Medical Lab Director Charles Henry.

The going rate for a unit of blood is $185. Part of the reason it's so expensive, the bags the blood is collected in cost $18 dollars themselves, the testing and processing is on top of that. "The FDA requires the testing because our whole mission is to provide blood that is safe, as safe as it can be. If you look at the price of processing and testing, if we have 14 tests and everything costs $10 or $15 or $5, the cost does mount up," said Betty Roberts, of Northwest Florida Blood Services.

"The bottom line is this, I don't care if blood is a thousand dollars a pint, if it's not there on the shelf when a patient needs it they will die... period," said Gaskins.

The organization paid out more than $2.9 million in salaries to 14 executives, including more than a half-million to its president and about $200,000 to each of its seven vice presidents. Gaskin says a volunteer board of directors decides their pay, which he believes is warranted by their expertise. It all seems like a lot of money for a not-for-profit and appears to contribute to the high cost of medical care. But Gaskin says Florida Blood Services is in the bottom 5-10% of the entire nation when it comes to blood processing fees.


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