The Rhode Island Blood Center will lay off 60 people by this fall. That’s to help cover the cost of screening for a tick-borne disease that’s on the rise in Rhode Island: babesiosis.
Babesiosis causes flu-like symptoms in some, but it can be life-threatening for the elderly or people with weak immune systems. It spreads through tick bites and blood transfusions. It's become the top transfusion-transmitted disease in the country, and it's endemic in Rhode Island.
That’s why the Rhode Island Blood Center plans to begin screening every donation in 2016. But Blood Center CEO Lawrence Smith said the test is expensive.
“We have a ballpark that here in Rhode Island," said Smith, "it will add something between $1.5 to $2 million dollars a year in the cost of testing blood.”
To offset that cost, the center will let go of 60 employees and stop holding smaller blood drives. Smith says they will focus on larger drives or one of six collection centers throughout the state. He says the center will still need the same level of blood donations to meet demand.
Smith said the new test is expensive because the RIBC will have to build new laboratory space to accommodate it. Also, the test itself has several components. All of that could lead to higher costs for hospitals, which pay about $200 - $250 dollars for each unit of blood or blood product. According to Smith, it's not yet clear how much the new test will increase the price of blood, but the center will focus on streamlining the collection of blood donations to minimize increases.
Smith said the center has staffed up in recent years in order to staff multiple smaller blood drives around the state. Employees affected by the lay-offs are primarily those who staff the smaller (fewer than 15 donations) drives.