RI Blood Center lays off dozens of employees

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Blood Center is handing out pink slips.

Eyewitness News has learned that dozens of employees are losing their jobs. According to the center, many options were explored but ultimately the layoffs were deemed necessary.

There are approximately 380 employees of the non-profit organization and soon 60 will be without work. Earlier this week, the center announced the layoffs and said they would go into effect September 30.

“Nobody likes to lay anybody off,” said Larry Smith, President of the RI Blood Center.

Smith said the layoffs will save the organization about $2 million each year — money needed for new testing of the tick-borne disease babesiosis which is known to cause symptoms similar to malaria.

“The cost of doing babesia testing is going to be significant. So we have to figure out how to collect blood more efficiently,” Smith explained.

According to Smith, “more efficiently” means cutting back on smaller blood drivers throughout the state. He said small drives only pull in about five to seven donations each. Many of the part and full-time staffers — the people who manage those drives — will be the ones to lose their positions.

“We’re going to try to redirect those donors, to redirect them to larger drives, or to one of our six donor centers,” Smith said.

But Smith said he is worried the layoffs could reduce the number of blood donations. “This is not about needing less blood. It’s about collecting blood as cost-effectively as possible.”

And it’s only a matter of time before the Food and Drug Administration requires babesis testing in Rhode Island. “Babesia is the number one transfusion transmitted disease in the United States,” Smith said.

The blood center already tests for HIV, hepatitis, and syphilis — but babesia requires specialized equipment. The center is building a new lab so testing can begin next year.

Right now, the center said it is trying to help its employees find new jobs elsewhere in the health care industry.

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