Sales reps roll up sleeves for others

July 1, 1999

Pharmaceutical Representative

Blood donation is a way for companies to give something to their communities.

Sharing time and knowledge with the health care community are daily tasks for pharmaceutical sales reps. Early this year, however, they and their fellow employees at 17 of New Jersey's leading pharmaceutical and medical device companies rolled up their sleeves and gave even more by donating a record 5,351 pints of blood to America's Blood Centers.

"It was just incredible," said Susan Parkinson, deputy director of America's Blood Centers, of the united effort. "We increased overall donations by 14% while the national average was 5%. We tripled the national average."

Each pint of blood has the potential to save three or four people's lives, according to Melissa McMillan, a spokesperson for America's Blood Centers.

The industry's remarkable feat - a 14% increase over the amount donated in New Jersey last year - was accomplished thanks to multiple blood drives held from November 1998 to March 1999. The blood drives were part of a fledgling program called Rx Partners for Life that unites The Health Care Institute of New Jersey, America's Blood Centers, and pharmaceutical and medical device companies headquartered in New Jersey.

Meeting a need

Between 1994 and 1997, collection of whole blood slowed by 6%, according to a survey by the National Blood Data Resource Center. As a result, there have been blood shortages around the country, particularly in New York and New Jersey where the dense, urban population base often necessitates blood imports from other parts of the country.

Rx Partners for Life was conceived as a way for pharmaceutical and medical device companies to help reverse the shortages and give something back to their communities.

"We found four companies - Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Schering-Plough and Bristol-Myers Squibb - to lead the program. They recruited 13 others to participate in blood drives. And these companies said, 'Let's make an effort to make our blood drives count,'" said Parkinson.

America's Blood Centers set up blood collection sites for one to three days at each company's headquarters. On those days, healthy employees were encouraged to take time to donate blood.

As a reward, some of those who donated received "gallon pins" from America's Blood Centers and the Red Cross, indicating that they had donated a gallon of blood over the course of several blood drives (volunteers are allowed to donate every 56 days).

Some companies found other ways to motivate employees to participate as well. At Merck, donors received a free lunch pass to the company's cafeteria and either a collectible pint glass or T-shirt, according to Janine Johnson, Merck's manager of employee giving and volunteerism. Multiple donors who gave four or more times that year received a denim shirt with a special emblem on it. Merck has an in-house blood collection center that hosts blood drives all year round.

Strong leadership support of blood drives contributed to Merck's successful participation in Rx Partners for Life, according to Johnson. Merck also implemented an ambassador program of 350 volunteers who felt committed to blood donation. These ambassadors recruited their colleagues to participate.

"It makes a big difference when it is encouraged from every level on down," Johnson said.

Commitment to community

Despite the busy time of year and the usual holiday season conflicts, pharmaceutical and medical device employees put forth an extraordinary effort.

At Hoffman La Roche, for example, the number of blood donations rose by 240%, from 15 units of blood last year to 51 units this year. At Johnson & Johnson, where employees consistently demonstrate their commitment to blood donation, the increase was 15% - from 1,575 units to 1,808 units.

Overall, the pharmaceutical companies that participated in the Rx Partners for Life Program increased their average blood donations by 93%.

"If all American companies held firmly this principle of commitment to supporting their local community blood programs, then we would never hear of blood shortages," said America's Blood Center's executive director Jim MacPherson. PR