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Blood-bank executive reflects on 37 years

Health care has changed significantly since Jim Cooper joined Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank 37 years ago. Open-heart surgery was still newfangled. AIDS hadn’t been discovered.

Health care has changed significantly since Jim Cooper joined Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank 37 years ago. Open-heart surgery was still newfangled. AIDS hadn’t been discovered.

But what hasn’t changed is the growing need for blood. The blood bank collected about 9,000 pints of blood a year when Cooper became its first full-time leader in 1970. Now, the nonprofit collects 85,000 pints a year. It serves a dozen midstate hospitals.

Cooper, 65, is retiring at the end of June. It’s time for the blood bank to get new leadership, he said. His successor is Patrick Bradley, now the organization’s chief operating officer.

“I think that, as with all businesses, there’s a need for new direction and new philosophies,” he said.

Cooper recently sat down with the Business Journal at the blood bank’s headquarters in Swatara Township, Dauphin County. He discussed how his industry has changed, the increased demand for blood, and business’ role in encouraging blood donation. His comments have been edited for space and clarity.

CPBJ: What are the major changes you’ve seen in the blood-collection industry during your career?

Cooper: The major things in blood banking have been hepatitis and, obviously, AIDS. New medical procedures such as open-heart surgery are saving thousands and thousands of lives today but also carry with them the need for a whole lot more blood.

CPBJ: What are some current trends facing the industry?

Cooper: The biggest issue is the increased need (for blood) every year and the decreased number of donors. Ever since the HIV situation, the federal government keeps instituting new regulations in terms of who can donate and who cannot. Many of the people who have historically been multi-gallon donors can’t donate today because of those regulations. More and more, our emphasis has to be on educating the public about the fact that we need blood donors.

CPBJ: Have the regulations on blood donations become too restrictive?

Cooper: Prior to AIDS, this industry was not highly regulated. (AIDS) was the beginning of real regulatory input. Today, giving blood is much more difficult than it was 20 years ago. We ask questions today that are very personal, that we have to ask. It’s not as easy to donate as it used to be. In the long run, (the regulations are) good. I don’t know if it can become too restrictive. The blood supply is by far the safest it’s ever been. But, as with almost anything, sometimes you get carried away good intentions.

CPBJ: Why should businesses care that there is an adequate supply of blood? How can they encourage employees to donate?

Cooper: One of the major problems facing businesses is the cost of health care. It has always been this organization’s goal to provide the highest-quality product possible at the least-expensive price. That translates to savings financially for businesses in the area. The fact is that we need businesses more than anybody to support this program. (Most of our blood drives) are at businesses. Businesses need to be willing to allow us to come and to promote it within their own organizations. It’s difficult to reach people on a one-to-one basis, but if you can reach 500 potential donors through one employer, that’s a tremendous asset.

CPBJ: What is the future of the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank and of the blood-collection industry?

Cooper: With blood needs in general, I see the trends continuing as health care comes up with new procedures. In terms of this organization, I think the potential for growth is very, very significant in the next three to five years. When I mean growth, I mean expansion into serving other areas. And, obviously with that, you need to produce more donors. Our expansion is only limited at this point by the availability of blood to do that.

About Jim Cooper

Title: President and chief executive officer, Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank

Age: 65

Educational background: In 1965, Cooper earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Millersville University in Lancaster County.

Professional background: Cooper joined the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank in 1970. He has worked in the pharmaceutical, home-health and hospital industries.

Personal: Cooper lives in Derry Township. He and his wife, Wendy, have two children.

Left: Jim Cooper became Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank’s first full-time leader in 1970.

Right: The blood bank’s first blood-donation bus was a 1967 Dodge Travelodge retrofitted to be a blood mobile.

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