Blood Bank of Alaska internal investigation finds no wrongdoing

Blood Bank of Alaska board members said in an internal investigation released Friday they did not substantiate any of the allegations from a complaint that a group of whistleblowing blood bank employees filed with federal authorities in August.

The 23-page report on the board's internal investigation dissected the August complaint to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which accused the Blood Bank of managerial misconduct and mismanagement of its finances and blood supply. But the board's report disputed those claims, including that the organization was shipping blood donations out of state for a fee so it could afford payments on its new, 57,000-square-foot, $45 million building in East Anchorage.

"We're all about compliance. We're all about transparency," said Bob Scanlon, Blood Bank CEO at a press conference Friday. "We're all about safety, purity and potency of the blood supply. We deal in minutia and detail every single day, and we want to fix problems."

The nonprofit launched its investigation after the Alaska Journal of Commerce reported in September that a group of employees had filed a complaint with the FDA, posting a copy of the complaint online.

The complaint said Scanlon was under "great pressure" from the board to make payments on a $8.5 million loan taken out to pay for the new building. The complaint said the decision to export blood was made because the bank couldn't afford to make those payments, and the resulting "excessive exporting" had led to dangerous shortages of blood throughout the summer.

Linda Soriano, the Blood Bank's former development director, signed the FDA complaint, and stood by its claims Friday. She said she collaborated on the complaint with five current and former employees, who were not named. A copy of the complaint provided to Alaska Dispatch News says the employees represent all levels within the nonprofit. 

Ryan York, chair of the bank's board of directors, named three board members, out of a total 16, to a committee in September to investigate the complaint. York said if any of the allegations seemed valid or needed further study during the investigation, the committee could have asked for help from outside experts or contracted with someone outside of the Blood Bank.

By the end of the investigation, no experts were used, nor was anyone contracted to assist, he said.

"They talked to customers. They talked to current and former employees," York said of the committee. About the investigation he said, "They left nothing out. They left no stone unturned."

The committee's report concluded that the Blood Bank had fully filled hospitals' blood orders and its contract to send blood to California-based LifeStream was "consistent with both responsible blood management and BBA's mission of service to the Alaskan community."

The bank started exporting blood to LifeStream under a contract that started May 1 and runs through December. Each week, it sends LifeStream about 100 pints of blood that are nearing expiration, according to Scanlon.

The report said the number of the BBA's registered donors has increased this year, as well as the units of blood collected. Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, units collected increased 20 percent, compared to the same period last year, according to figures from the bank.

The report said it verified only one statement in the complaint: that the Blood Bank's budget projected $25,000 to $41,000 per month in unrestricted gifts, which it had not achieved. York said those numbers were projections and hadn't resulted in unpaid bills.

"It's money that we thought we could go after and be able to apply toward our debt to the building," Scanlon said, "but it's not necessary in terms of make or break for the organization."

Scanlon said he believed the complaint accusations stemmed from a "lack of knowledge" about the blood industry.

"We're talking about a grant writer stating what the best process for managing inventory is," he said.

The Blood Bank declined to provide a copy of its 2016 budget.

Soriano, who signed the FDA complaint, said Friday the BBA misrepresented its financial information, providing her with budget documents that inaccurately portrayed the Blood Bank's financial picture as more rosy than it was.

"My whole complaint about finances stems from them lying on the budget about how much the (loan) payment was and projecting unrestricted gifts that were incredibly unrealistic," Soriano said.  

Scanlon said at a news conference Friday that Soriano had declined to provide the bank with the FDA complaint or participate in the investigation.

Soriano said she had taken her concerns to Scanlon in the past, before filing the complaint. She resigned this fall.

The FDA did not respond to requests for comment Friday afternoon.