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July 9, 2015 - Exceeding standards: USA Medical Center receives blood bank accreditation


Checking into a hospital should be like checking into the Ritz Carlton — at least where quality of care is concerned, said Rick Cooke, director of laboratory services at the University of South Alabama Medical Center.

At a fancy hotel, you don’t spend time wondering whether the room will be clean and the service good, he said. You simply expect it.

At a hospital, you shouldn’t have to worry if the care will be good. You should expect it. Earning and maintaining various accreditations help hospitals demonstrate the quality of care and services it provides, he said.

USA Medical Center recently received a two-year accreditation from the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB), demonstrating the hospital has met or exceeded rigorous requirements set forth by the group.

Such accreditation is not required, Cooke said, but it’s vital for a hospital to meet more than the minimum standards.

“We’re an academic center,” he said. “We believe we should be setting the standard for the community. We should be leading, not following.”

The certification process validates the quality of the laboratory’s operations, Cooke says, describing it as “a validation of the processes that we sometimes take for granted.”

Every other year, AABB inspectors perform an unannounced visit to see how well the blood-related lab work is being performed, reviewing both documentation and operations.

“They follow a unit of blood from when it leaves the refrigerator until it goes into the patient,” said Cooke. “It’s about everything in the transfusion experience.”

Hospital laboratory staff confirm the group and type for each unit of blood. They check the refrigeration system, making sure the temperature is stable and that blood is not kept beyond its recommended shelf life, which is typically two to six weeks depending on the product. Inspectors watch how it’s transported and how it’s administered to a patient.

Typically, blood is on a shelf only two or three weeks at the Medical Center. “We are the area’s Level 1 trauma center, so we use more blood than the average hospital,” said Cooke.

In addition, surgeries such as open heart virtually always require blood.

Most of the Medical Center’s blood supply, an estimated 98 percent, comes from LifeSouth, another organization certified by AABB.

Demand for blood continues to be high. In the last three months of 2014, the Medical Center used 1,074 units of blood, Cooke said.

“We never want to have to say the product is unavailable.”

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