Vitalant building blood-donor base at Evergreen center

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  • Laura Milam, of Kalispell, has her blood drawn by Travis Swiontek, assistant donor care supervisor, at Vitalant - Kalispell on Thursday, April 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Laura Milam, of Kalispell, has her blood drawn by Travis Swiontek, assistant donor care supervisor, at Vitalant - Kalispell on Thursday, April 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Donated plasma samples stored at Vitalant - Kalispell on Thursday, April 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Donated blood samples stored at Vitalant - Kalispell on Thursday, April 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

  • Laura Milam, of Kalispell, has her blood drawn by Travis Swiontek, assistant donor care supervisor, at Vitalant - Kalispell on Thursday, April 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Laura Milam, of Kalispell, has her blood drawn by Travis Swiontek, assistant donor care supervisor, at Vitalant - Kalispell on Thursday, April 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 2

    Donated plasma samples stored at Vitalant - Kalispell on Thursday, April 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Donated blood samples stored at Vitalant - Kalispell on Thursday, April 4. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

Just one year after its opening in March 2018, Vitalant, an Evergreen-based nonprofit blood donation center, has become the sole blood supplier for Kalispell Regional Medical Center and North Valley Hospital and is the only local blood supplier in the valley.

According to Vitalant Territory Manager Rachelle Morehead, the center provided 2,174 red blood cells, 1,369 platelets and 700 units of plasma to Kalispell Regional alone in one year.

Vitalant, formerly United Blood Services, is part of a national organization headquartered in Spokane, Washington. Nationwide, there are 127 Vitalant centers.

Aside from Evergreen, other Vitalant locations in Montana can be found in Butte and Billings. Vitalant supplies blood to over 30 hospitals in Montana and Wyoming.

Morehead said Vitalant relies heavily on consistent donors who they hope will give blood at least three times a year — a frequency she said would assure the medical demands for blood in the community are supplied.

“Three times a year is kind of the golden rule,” Morehead said. “When we have enough people donating that many times, we are able to keep the community’s blood needs in check.”

There are currently three phlebotomists at the center. Morehead said the current staff can accommodate 25 donors a day.

However, the center is coming off of a slow winter of donations. Morehead said the center isn’t meeting its donation mark of 10 per collection day, which are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

“We are currently averaging four donors a day, which causes us to rely on our sister centers to fulfill our obligations to our local hospitals,” Morehead said.

Sister centers in Billings, Butte and elsewhere have been supplementing the Evergreen location as the center waits for an upswing in donations again.

Morehead said the center hits low months and high months with their donors. But oftentimes, some of those low donor periods align with time when donations are needed the most. For example, there may be more car accidents in the winter months — a season when donors are less likely to brave the winter weather and get to the donation center.

Morehead said the center hopes to increase donations by tapping into the millennial market, which is a largely untapped source in the Flathead Valley.

“We are really trying to figure out how to get young people in the doors,” Morehead said. “It’s part of the community we really haven’t tapped into and we need them to kind of rise to the occasion.”

Down the road Vitalant also hopes to expand its mobile unit services. For the mobile service, the company uses a large truck in which they load up all the equipment and chairs necessary for blood donation and set up the units in various spaces and buildings throughout the valley.

Beginning in July, Vitalant will start offering one week of mobile services every other month. She said it will be a landmark occasion.

“A constant goal of ours is to integrate ourselves more into the community,” Morehead. “We’ll go all over like to Libby, Hungry Horse, Bigfork. We really want to get out there and show our faces more.”

In an effort to bring more volunteer donors through the doors, Morehead said Vitalant also offers regular promotions. For example, it is currently offering coupons to local breweries in exchange for their donation.

It’s part of Vitalant’s plan to build its base of consistent donors.

“As Kalispell and the valley continue to grow, so will the need for blood,” said Bobbie Anderson, a phlebotomist for Vitalant. “Everyone should consider donating. It might literally be your neighbor’s life that you save one day.”

Vitalant’s blood donation center is located at 2593 U.S. 2 E., Suite 1, in Evergreen. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday; and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. For more information call 877-258-4825.

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com.

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