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Turning Struggles to Solutions One Bill at a Time

By Pia Hallenberg

*This story first appeared in the 2023 GSI Connect Magazine, which can found on our About Us page. Connect with us and learn how your company can get involved in our advocacy efforts.

Among the organizations especially challenged by the pandemic were the local blood banks. Not only did they have to meet incredible demands while hospitalizations peaked, but they also lost a lot of donors who preferred to stay away from any medical facility.

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The result was devastating.

“Going into the pandemic, we had 100,000 donors – today we have 20,000,” said Jennifer Hawkins, Regional Director of Vitalant, the region’s blood bank.

As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, Hawkins couldn’t train phlebotomists quickly enough. New trainees would go through all the training they needed – including working blood drives and doing supervised work with donors at Vitalant’s walk-in locations – and then be submitted for certification.

“Sometimes it would take more than 12 weeks before they received the certification, and in that period of time, they could not touch a needle,” Hawkins said. “So, coming out of training, we couldn’t use them. Sometimes we lost them because we couldn’t find 40 hours per week for them. It was horrible.”

Hawkins hit roadblock after roadblock as she tried to push for an exemption for phlebotomists at blood banks so they could immediately start working after their training ended.

Hawkins connected with Jake Mayson, the Public Policy Director at Greater Spokane Inc. (GSI), who shared that GSI was already working on similar issues.

“I heard about Jennifer’s struggle through mutual connections in our bioscience initiative,” Mayson said. “There was a state law that required phlebotomists to practice on patients during their training, but they couldn’t touch a patient from the time they were done with training until they got licensed.”

Sometimes getting licensed took several weeks or a month, Mayson added.

“Who can go that long without a paycheck?” he said. Kidney centers had similar issues with their entry-level assistants and Mayson said GSI was able to partner with them, too, and combine forces on a medical workforce bill that has already taken effect.

Stacia Rasmussen, Life Sciences Spokane Business Development Manager, said using GSI’s advocacy capability pushed the legislation change forward.

“Once they connected, Jake and Jennifer worked hand in hand to get to this outcome,” Rasmussen said. “It was a great collaboration.”

Hawkins agreed.

“It’s been a very long road for us,” Hawkins said. “It was GSI who picked up our case and helped us get it fixed.”

The shortage of phlebotomists directly impacted the region’s low blood supply: without appropriate staff, Vitalant couldn’t hold all the blood drives requested even if donors were lined up and eager to donate.

“We are so excited that now we can finally staff up,” Hawkins said.

Vitalant covers a 900 square mile area with more than 40 hospitals, and to meet hospital demand, more than 200 donors have to give blood daily.

“What we need now is donors,” Hawkins said. “Let’s face it, most of our donors are Baby Boomers and are beginning to age. We need the 50 and younger crowd, the Gen Xers, and younger people to pick up the baton from their parents and grandparents.”

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