Bonfils Memorial Blood Center: Thomas C. Puckett, President & CEO

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In a tough economy, businesses look for cost-effective ways to survive. One way is by enhancing existing products with new features, rather creating new products.  However, when the business is blood, how do you improve on this life-saving commodity?

That is the dilemma faced by Thomas C. Puckett, president and CEO of Bonfils Blood Center.  This 67-year-old, 400-employee organization, with headquarters in Denver, Co. and nine community collection centers throughout the state, handles more than 200,000 units of blood a year. Bonfils works with about 1,500 community organizations, conducting about 3,400 mobile blood drives annually.  The organization also supplies the Department of Defense and the Magen David Adom organization, Israel’s national emergency medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank service.

Domestically, Bonfils supplies more than 80% of the blood used in transfusions in Colorado, producing about 480,000 different products annually.  Of those 480,000 products Bonfils exports about – 60,000 out of state.

New Products

Puckett, who has been with Bonfils for 17 years, three as president and CEO, says the issue with creating blood-related products is time.  Platelets are good for five days and red blood cells are good for about 42 days, he said.  Knowing those restrictions, Bonfils is developing a process for freezing plasma in 24 hours.

“Right now, to make a prime product we would have to get a whole blood collection back to the donor center and the plasma separated and frozen within eight hours,” he said.  “Completing that process in 24 hours would allow us to make more prime product.”

Bonfils is also looking at pooled random platelets as an alternative to apheresis platelets for non-immune compromised patients, Puckett said.  This particular product is only good for five days, but this process would help expand the supply by better managing expirations.  Pooling random platelets would allow Bonfils to look at some of the ways platelets are used and find better ways for hospitals to have more flexibility in some of those products. Maximizing product viability is key when it comes to reimbursements.

“Today, the only money available is for products, services and organizations that provide value to the hospital,” Puckett said.  “If you are not doing something that brings value to your customer then you’re in trouble.”

One Industry – Multiple Models

While there are only about 80 organizations like Bonfils in the country, all falling under the regulatory oversight of the FDA, they all operate under different business models.  Puckett believes that is due, in part, to the fact that different organizations see blood centers as different entities.  The community sees the center as a service provider, a resource if you will.  Hospitals see the center as a commodity or vendor.  Finally, the FDA views the organization as a manufacturer.  Puckett homogenizes those differences by maintaining open communications with each constituency involved in the process.

Internally, communication is important as well, particular when dealing with any product or process changes.  Once a proposed change clears regulatory compliance scrutiny and FDA approval, it goes before Bonfils’ Change Board.  The Change Board allows the middle management team to take the direction from senior management, focus on the proposed change, and determine a course of action, Puckett said. New processes and workflows are developed through that process.

Another challenge for a CEO in this industry, Puckett said, is to make sure that the organization’s board of trustees is responsive.  Potential board members are in a position of fiduciary responsibility to provide leadership and guidance to the organization.  It’s very difficult in the environment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to engage people who are willing to take the time and energy to understand their responsibility in these areas and to be able to help the CEO manage the risk of some of the decisions made to keep the organization operating.

Increasing Donor Population

In terms of the donor population, Puckett said the United States does a good job of deferring unsuitable donors, whether it’s because they have behaviors that can transmit diseases or have traveled to parts of the world where there are endemic issues that can affect blood supply.  Going forward, he would like to focus on practices that could increase donors, such as lowering the donor age or encouraging state regulation of tattoo parlors.

Puckett would also like to work with federal legislators to make sure the “Do Not Call” law does not negatively impact blood collection centers. He would also like the federal government to take a look at tax credit opportunities for organizations that allow employees to donate blood on company time.

Information Technology Initiatives

When discussing Bonfils’ 2009 budget, Puckett refers to it as “the year of the software.”  In addition to payroll and human resources software, a vital aspect of the organization’s IT system involves software called SafeTrace®, an information tracking and management system for blood banking developed by Wyndgate Technologies, a division of Global Med Technologies.  SafeTrace helps Bonfils manage its donor data, which becomes more important as the center’s demographics continue to grow and change.

“You don’t just need data; you need information, so you must be able to put this together in a meaningful way,” he said.

Industry Partners

Bonfils looks to its partner testing laboratories and collection facilities for help developing the next level of technology.  “Big players” in that market include Pall Corp., Terumo Medical Corp., Abbott Labs and Ortho Clinical Diagnostics (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson).  The next area of interest to Puckett, in terms of cost and turnaround time, is how quickly new testing platforms will be available.

“We all hear a lot about nanotechnology,” he said.  “What I have read and discussed with others is that we’re not that far away from the potential of having some very different testing platforms that will be much more efficient and cost-effective for blood centers down the road.”

Effectiveness Measurements

Benchmarking is making its way into the blood collection industry, Puckett said, as barriers to sharing information among once competitive organizations have diminished.

In measuring goals, Puckett uses a balanced scorecard system.  His quadrants for the year are customer goals, internal processes goals, financial goals, and learning and innovation goals.  The CEO’s middle-management team provides quarterly reports on advancements in each quadrant.

Overall, Puckett measures success by how well his staff performs.

“Surround yourself with really smart, hard-working people, provide a little bit of guidance and leadership and get the hell out of the way,” he said.

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