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Bad Blood
September 21, 2003

Joe Szaller was a respected blood mobile medical team manager at the Red Cross Chesapeake regional blood center in Baltimore.

But in late 2000, as CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports, Szaller began seeing disturbing trends that he felt compromised the safety of the blood he helped collect and the people who would receive it.

His team, he says, was among the safest, best performing blood collection team in the region.

However, when asked if it's possible that infected blood could have slipped through, Szaller replies, "Yes, I firmly believe that."

How could that happen?

To begin with, handheld computers are supposed to "pre-check" donors against a database, in case they've been flagged as unsafe. But Szaller says the "pre-check" computers were out of commission most days.

"Let's say you do have Hepatitis C, well you can't donate," explains Szaller. "Well, your social security number would be in that pre-system and it would come up and say, 'may not donate.'"

"If I don't have the pre-check system, I don't know that."

According to Szaller, blood was routinely accepted without the required pre-check. Adding to the dangers, he also says Red Cross employees were put on bloodmobiles without the mandatory safety training and weren't asking donors the right screening questions, questions to identify if they're at high risk.

Szaller says he complained to his supervisors for months, but nothing changed.

"I reached the point where I could not sleep at night," he says. "I was thankful at this point that my family lived in West Virginia if they needed a blood transfusion because I know that the Chesapeake Bay area's … taking too many shortcuts just to make their goals."

Though much blood stays in the region where it's collected, it can be sent anywhere it's needed. Finally, in spring of 2001, Szaller called a special Red Cross national hotline to report the safety violations. After that, things did change, but not the way he expected.

The day after he called the hotline to report the problems, Szaller was fired. He believes his call was the reason for his termination.

"I knew in my heart all the way down to the bottom of my feet," he says. "I knew that this was it."

His bosses say they fired Szaller for mismanagement, despite the stellar job reviews and stacks of commendations and awards he had received.

What adds to Szaller's credibility is what the Food and Drug Administration found when it recently inspected the facility where he worked.

Much More to This Story @ SOURCE



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