New York: a city without blood donation banks

New York Magazine’s Zeke Miller got a glimpse of a fascinating truth this week when he wandered into a blood bank in midtown Manhattan. Much to the bemusement of workers and customers, the building was dark and devoid of those ubiquitous fluorescent lights that brighten or darkened many commercial spaces. The New York Blood Center, an agency dedicated to the collection and distribution of blood to hospitals and emergency services across the state, had recently been forced to lay off hundreds of workers and soon would have to close its Midtown location. What had left the space was a cardboard building with a dozen doors that pointed to a red door in one corner and a blue door in the other, flanked by the N, Q, and R subway lines. The pink on the door? That’s the notice that tells potential donors where their blood will be stored and transported, but it’s really just pink for luck.

The New York Blood Center was a longtime employer in New York City, including The Hair and Acupuncturist Bar on New York’s Upper East Side and the film and television production company From The Bronx to Hollywood, producing such films as Wayne’s World. The agency was created in 1935 to meet the emergency need for blood in the midst of the great flu epidemic that struck the city, the original location of the New York Blood Center’s Fifth Avenue headquarters still located there today. But a new home of sorts had recently opened in Midtown Manhattan at the corner of East 55th Street and Eighth Avenue, which is currently used as an office building. The deal was so contentious that it resulted in no funding coming from the city and a legal challenge.

Its future is now in question as the New York Blood Center announced in March that it would be shutting down its Midtown location by the end of 2019. Due to a decline in donations, the agency said that it needed to reduce its expenditures, making alternative space its top priority. The New York Blood Center’s board voted in favor of a building in Westchester County, but when clients began pointing out that the tradeoff could mean losing blood donations from New Yorkers, the board backed off. Now that it looks like the agency will be moving to Greenwich Village, the city is trying to figure out what to do next.

“Most New Yorkers will be sorry to see the blood center move, but the availability of blood in our community has always been critical,” New York City Council Member Corey Johnson told New York Magazine. “I am working to find a new home that will enable the blood center to serve the residents of the city and have worked closely with the Department of Health to make this transition as seamless as possible. I am hopeful that we can find a place in Brooklyn or Manhattan to house the center, so that New Yorkers continue to have access to the blood they need for lifesaving procedures.”

The New York Blood Center serves more than 8 million patients in the city and oversees a blood donation infrastructure that the city says is the world’s most extensive. Meanwhile, Blood Centers of America has already shown interest in a Midtown location.

“Hospitals, schools, and the NYPD will have continued access to the blood that’s stored there,” said Ken McDonald, the blood center’s executive director.

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