Darlene Folan is the vice president for quality at the Rhode Island Blood Center. She began her Blood Center career in 1983 as a technologist and moved up to the ranks as assistant supervisor in 1991, director of laboratory services in 1999 and director of laboratory and hospital services in 2009 before moving to her current position in 2012.
Folan graduated from Eastern Connecticut State College in 1982 and Bridgeport Hospital School of Medical Technology in 1983. She talked to Providence Business News about the Blood Center’s new lab, which is scheduled for completion in mid-July, its upgraded equipment and the nonprofit’s MedTech scholarship program.
PBN: Can you tell us a little bit about the new lab you’re completing?
FOLAN: The new laboratory space was conceived a few years back in part to accommodate the growth in volume of tests performed and lack of space needed for larger pieces of equipment used to screen donor blood. The Rhode Island Blood Center laboratory is the only blood center in all of New England that offers the complete battery of tests for donor screening.
Many of the hospitals in Massachusetts have blood collection programs and find it economical to send their testing to the Rhode Island Blood Center. We offer quick turnaround times and great customer service. The equipment for testing requires climate control that is difficult to maintain in an older building. In our current location there isn’t room to add any more equipment should a new required test or process need to be implemented. We are anticipating construction to be completed by mid-July, and the various equipment to be phased in over several months.
PBN: What sort of upgraded technology will the new lab include?
FOLAN: The same equipment used for testing and processing will be relocated into the additional space, but the placement will ensure more efficient flow of work. The new space will house a state of the art tube sorter. It automates removal of caps and loading of tubes into test racks reducing the repetitive motion for staff. The system provides tracking for sample location should a single tube be required for additional testing.
PBN: What kind of equipment and staff does it take to handle and process the amount of blood the Blood Center goes through?
FOLAN: The Main Laboratory testing department employs 18 licensed laboratory technologists and technicians and 25 laboratory assistants. The Reference, DNA and HLA laboratories employ an additional nine licensed medical scientists. Approximately 95,000 donations per year are tested and processed by the Main Laboratory. In addition, the Rhode Island Blood Center tests another 65,000 donations from other collection sites. The laboratory assistants use large centrifuges, filters and sealers to process whole blood into its constituents. From one unit a process plan could yield three transfusable products, either red cells, platelets and fresh frozen plasma, or red cells, cryoprecipitate and plasma. Equipment and assays used for testing must be approved by the FDA. We have two of each of the following so that should one piece be down the other is available for use to ensure blood is released each day. The Abbott Prism is used to screen for viral markers for diseases such as Hepatitis (B and C), HIV, HTLV and Chagas. The Novartis Tigres Nucleic Acid Test system is used to screen for HIV, HCV, HBV and West Nile Virus. The Beckman Coulter is used to determine donor ABO and Rh as well as screen for syphilis. The BioRad Tango is used to screen for a typical antibodies. In addition to testing donors, the laboratory techs also test products as part of a quality control plan. Each platelet product is sampled to detect bacteria. Each month random products are selected to undergo testing for quality indicators to ensure the processing remains up the standards required by FDA and AABB.
PBN: Could you tell me about the Blood Center’s Med Tech scholarship?
FOLAN: It is open to a student in the last year of a medical laboratory science program. The only remaining bachelors program in Rhode Island is at URI. We are very happy to partner with URI in putting this scholarship program in place.
The student must meet eligibility requirements, submit transcripts and an essay describing their interest in blood banking. The scholarship is a $5,000 grant and includes a paid part-time, 10-20 hour a week position at the Rhode Island Blood Center laboratory for one year.
PBN: What prompted the center to start the scholarship program?
FOLAN: The overall growth of the Rhode Island Blood Center not only in the testing laboratory but in other related areas, such as quality, information technology, stem cells and therapeutics often creates open positions for which medical laboratory scientist skills are well suited.
In Rhode Island it is difficult to find qualified medical technologists. The current local program can only produce a limited number of graduates, and they are often recruited by hospitals before graduation.
The scholarship was developed to help attract students interested in the medical laboratory scientist profession and to make them aware of the opportunities the Rhode Island Blood Center offers in terms of professional growth.
For years we’ve encouraged our laboratory assistants to further their education and become technicians or technologist with tuition assistance. Many have and some are still working at the Rhode Island Blood Center. Our medical technologists are often called upon to speak at career days at middle and high schools. In recent years we’ve collaborated with a local high school (Juanita Sanchez) to provide a short internship to expose students to the work going on in a Blood Center as well as the education necessary to become a medical laboratory scientist.