When last we checked in with Florida's Blood Centers, they were still cutting big checks to those running the "nonprofit," demonstrating ethically questionable business practices — and losing donors because of it.
Today, we find the center in spin mode — trying out a P.R. strategy that's so much of a stretch, it might pop.
And we also find ourselves at the heart of what this country's health-care debate should really be focused upon: sky-high costs, as evidenced by one donor's $3,900 hospital bill ... for two pints of blood.
No sale?But first, let's check the spin cycle.
Faced with mounting criticism about FBC's spending excess — on everything from salaries to luxury-hotel stays — center officials are now claiming they don't benefit by selling blood.
In fact, FBC claims it doesn't sell anything.
Sure, they may charge hospitals $320 or more for a pint of blood and all of its assorted parts. But that, they say, is simply reimbursement for incurred costs.
"Blood is not bought and sold like a commodity or product," FBC President and CEO Anne Chinoda wrote in a message to donors. "Hospitals reimburse us for our costs of collecting, testing, processing, storing and distributing blood."
Well, good news, Sentinel readers! We've decided we're no longer going to "sell" newspapers either.
We're just going to ask you to "reimburse" us for the cost of collecting and distributing our product (information), which has been donated as well. The "reimbursement" will cost you a buck at the corner store.
If we continue to follow the blood centers' lead — and claim we provide a valuable service (which we do) without selling anything for "profit" — we can avoid taxes, too!
This will free up all kinds of money for us to spend the same way the blood bank does. We can jack up the salaries and compensation packages for needy columnists and deserving editors. (Chinoda's topped out at nearly $600,000.)
We can afford to take a lot more trips. (FBC spent $807,000 on travel in 2006 — including $52,000 on a retreat at the Ritz-Carlton.)
And we could get people on our board of directors who can then vote to give each other's companies millions of dollars in contracts and deals — again, just like the blood bank does.
OK, so maybe all that won't work. But maybe all those numbers help paint a clearer picture about some of the root causes of our country's health-care crisis — spending and costs are out of control.
Just ask Julia Doyle.
The 66-year-old donated blood all of her professional life while she was employed by General Motors in Detroit. She had health insurance, too.
But then she moved down here a few years ago — after her GM insurance ran out and before she was old enough to qualify for Medicare — and could not find anyone to insure her because of a pre-existing condition.
That meant Julia had to pay out of pocket for a transfusion she needed at Florida Hospital in 2006 because of a blood condition — and was shocked to get the $3,943 bill.
For two pints of blood — the likes of which she had donated gallons for free throughout her life.
"I honestly couldn't believe it," she recalled last week.
Florida Hospital, by the way, is run by Adventist Health — another nonprofit that pays its executives handsomely. (The CEO had a package worth $3.5 million in 2007.)
Florida Hospital ended up cutting Julia's costs in half. And she thought the service was top-notch — and said Florida Hospital helped her with another, costlier procedure, treating her as an uninsured charity case and providing surgery for free.
But that sticker price on Julia's blood wasn't unusual. The Society for the Advancement of Blood — which is also concerned about the high price of this life-saving need — recently cited a study that said transfusions averaged about $1,400 per unit.
There are a lot of reasons for this, many quite legitimate. Both Florida Hospital and FBC go to great lengths to provide clean, safe blood.
But the bottom line is that, somewhere between the time that donors freely give away their blood and the time it's pumped back into a body for more than $1,000 a pint, things go awry.
Questions about priceRepublican state Sen. Don Gaetz agrees. His health committee is launching an investigation, prompted in part by what he and others have read in the Sentinel.
"People who give blood think they are giving blood to some sort of charitable organization who will pass it along to someone in need," Gaetz said. "But the reality is: This is a multitiered corporation that sells it for as much as $400 a pint. Why does it cost so much?"
Specifically, Gaetz wants to know how much money nonprofit health organizations are spending on "nonessential" items that drive up costs. That's where the salaries, luxury hotels and big-money deals among board members come in.
Giving blood is a good thing. It saves lives. And those who can should continue to do so.
But Florida's Blood Centers needs to spend less time on public relations and more time on meaningful reform.
Donors aren't misinformed. They just want their blood to be treated in the altruistic manner in which it was given.
Scott Maxwell can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-6141.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times