Pay-for-plasma donations increase in East Tennessee, blood bank supplies drying up

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- If you're struggling to pay your bills, good health and a permanent home address could earn you blood money, as places that pay for plasma are overflowing with donors.

Some of those donors might otherwise have rolled up their sleeves for free.

Whether you're doing it for free, or for a fee, your plasma, or your blood, is going for something good.

However, you should know that if you’re getting paid to give plasma, that plasma is going into medicine or medical research, and not to a blood bank for your neighbor’s surgery or your loved one’s own medical emergency.

Rhett Wilson with Knoxville Plasma says, “In a day we do about 120, and we're open six days a week.”

Every day is payday at Knoxville Plasma, and every chair is filled on most days.

Wilson says, “That's definitely a big reason for it I say, with the gas prices-needing that extra money these days.”

Vicki Stammans wants to donate plasma, and says, “When I first started donating, it was Plasma Alliance. They was giving $10 twenty-five years ago. Forty dollars is a lot of money.”

For new donors, assuming they give twice a week, donations could add up to $250 a month at Knoxville Plasma and $300 at their competitor, ZLB.

Christi Fightmaster with Medic Regional Blood Center says, “The places that will pay for plasma. They have seen an increase in donors, where we have seen a dramatic decrease in donors.”

Medic doesn't pay for blood, but money's not the only reason its stock's running low.

Fightmaster says, “People just aren't making that extra trip to our donor locations.”

Federal health regulations won’t let you double-dip, either.

If you give plasma, you can’t give whole blood to medic for eight weeks, and you have to wait twp weeks before donating platelets.

Giving blood to Medic also means you have to wait before you can give plasma.

The first week of July, Medic drummed up donations by giving away a $100 gas card.

Fightmaster says, “We may see having to use these incentives around special needs times, but we are a non-profit organization and we can't afford to do that on a regular basis.”

But Medic can’t risk violating federal regulations or its medical contracts, either.

That means the blood bank has to hope the T-shirts it gives donors will trump cold cash, and hope for more donors such as Debbie Pavinich.

“I'm not doing this other than because I think it's a good thing to do, and it just so happens, that my blood happens to go to children's hospital--to kids there that are in need.”

Blood banks and plasma centers require that you pass a physical, and you're screened for blood borne infections, viruses, and illnesses such as hepatitis and AIDS.

Medic needs 350 units of blood every day to supply its 29 hospitals in 21 counties, but it’s been falling 100 units short. By contrast, Knoxville Plasma alone has seen its regular donations double, and the number of new donors has quadrupled.

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