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Two new blood banks are looking for donors in Sonoma County, where Blood Bank of the Redwoods held sway for 63 years.

It's a sign of the times in the blood business, as rising costs drive consolidation and competition. Small community blood banks are disappearing, replaced by larger regional players.

Blood Bank of the Redwoods shut its doors last month, after six decades as the area's primary blood provider.

The Santa Rosa-based nonprofit agency was acquired by Blood Centers of the Pacific, a San Francisco blood bank that serves more than 50 hospitals in Northern California and is part of Blood Systems, the nation's second-largest nonprofit blood supplier.

With the acquisition, the San Francisco blood bank is now the sole source of blood for every hospital in Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties.

Three weeks ago, it opened a donation center in Santa Rosa, in the former headquarters of Blood Bank of the Redwoods.

"The donors who've given so faithfully over the years with Blood Bank of the Redwoods remain the backbone of the community blood program here," said Lisa Bloch, spokeswoman for Blood Centers of the Pacific.

The blood bank also is seeking new donors, offering a variety of incentives, she said.

"We plan to collect 1,500 blood donations every month to ensure we can provide the approximately 23,000 units of red cells that are needed by hospitals in Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties," Bloch said.

Meanwhile, another regional blood bank has started collecting blood in Sonoma County, with plans to open its own Santa Rosa donation center later this year.

BloodSource, based in the Sacramento area, supplies 40 hospitals in Northern and Central California. The closest one is in Solano County.

BloodSource is looking to expand in Sonoma and surrounding counties, said Leslie Botos, a spokeswoman for the blood bank.

"We're talking with hospitals in your area," she said.

It's not unusual for communities to have competing blood banks, Botos said.

"People should have options," she said. "It's good for the community."

BloodSource bloodmobiles are taking donations at various Santa Rosa locations while it works to open a permanent blood bank.

The changes to Sonoma County's blood distribution network began in 2008, when Blood Bank of the Redwoods lost its largest customer, St. Joseph Health System. St. Joseph, which owns Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and Petaluma Valley Hospital, said it was seeking a new supplier.

It later chose Blood Centers of the Pacific, saying the San Francisco provider offered significant cost savings over Santa Rosa's blood bank.

Blood Bank of the Redwoods continued to serve Kaiser Permanente, Sutter, Healdsburg, Sonoma Valley, Palm Drive and other hospitals in the area, but it struggled to survive.

Hospitals' demand for blood dropped during the economic downturn, as families lost health insurance and postponed medical procedures. Redwoods saw its revenue fall 25 percent when St. Joseph left the system.

In March, the Santa Rosa blood bank said it would merge with Blood Centers of the Pacific following two years of financial losses.

Terms were not disclosed, but $1 million from the deal will go to community foundations in Sonoma and Mendocino counties for health care scholarships, research, education and indigent care.

About half of the Santa Rosa blood bank's 100 employees lost their jobs in the merger, as administration was consolidated with Blood Centers of the Pacific.

'You just gotta get out of here:' Read the Mercury News story here


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"Most of the staff in Santa Rosa are working directly with the donors and hospitals we serve," said Bloch. "Donors and hospitals will see little outside change in the way we do things."

BloodSource has hired several medical staff and an administrator for its Santa Rosa donation program. It began weekly mobile blood drives in Sonoma County in late July.

The two nonprofit blood banks are careful not to criticize each other, but are quick to point out their differences.

Donations to Blood Centers of the Pacific go to local hospitals, Bloch said. "Our blood always stays here," she said.

Still, the San Francisco blood bank ships blood samples to Arizona for testing. BloodSource's samples are tested in California, Botos said. "We think that's really important," she said.

Regardless of their differences, the two organizations said donating blood is important.

"Patients rely on this precious substance, and there's no substitute for it," said Bloch.

Blood donors save lives, Botos said. "It all goes to the patient," she said.

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