Thanks in part to the construction of a new processing facility, the Tampa, Fla.-based LifeLink Tissue Bank is in a prime position for growth. In addition to providing more room for growth, it is equipped with the latest technology for tissue allografts. “We had outgrown the space we were in,” said Dan Shires, executive vice president of LifeLink Tissue Bank, one of six divisions operating under the LifeLink Foundation umbrella.

Several departments of the tissue bank were renting space outside the main facility. In addition to the cramped quarters, Shires said the building the organization was using was 30 years old and did not meet the standards of today’s tissue allograft needs.

“The repairs the building needed were not in line with what we needed for our process,” said Shires. “The impetus for the new building was partly so we could build state-of-the-art clean rooms as well as adding some space for our quality assurance and administrative people.”

The need to have space and equipment for improved technology is a necessity in today’s market. Decades ago, processing grafts was more of an art form: they were done by hand with band saws and other instrumentation that would be considered fairly basic today.

“We’re using a lot more precise equipment for cutting and making allografts for implants,” said Shires. “We’re using computer-controlled machines to make sure the tolerances are as slight as possible. When the implanting surgeon performs a procedure, we want to make sure it is as exact as possible from our end.”

The organization also upgraded its software and programs on the administrative end. Regulations require that each tissue implant be tracked from the time it leaves the facility to the site of the procedure and the patient.

“If there are any issues with a recall or problems in the field, not that that has happened to us, we’re able to track back from a particular donor to all the people who received the tissue,” said Shires.

Technology helps address numerous safety and regulatory concerns. The organization is putting an increased focus on making sure all tissue is properly stored and appropriately handled, both in its facility and in the hospitals.

“The computer programming we use is top-shelf, and we’ve created it,” said Shires. “It’s really helped us meet the expectations from regulatory agencies such as the FDA.”

Growth on the horizon

“We’re hoping that as the economy gets better, we’ll be able to look for additional partners and supply additional hospitals,” said Shires. “Of course, the new healthcare legislation is coming, and no one knows how that is going to impact reimbursement issues. That won’t affect us as much, but it will affect the physicians that use our services and the hospitals that use our allografts.”

Staying in constant contact with the hospitals and physicians it serves is of the utmost importance to LifeLink. Shires said the organization prides itself on the quality and service it provides to its customers.

“We try to make sure we have what they need, and we need to ensure that it is as safe and effective as possible,” said Shires. “We’re mainly a processing and distributing division. We get the tissue in, make sure it is safe, put it in packaging, and distribute it to the hospitals and surgeons who are going to use it.”

Because of the economic downturn, there has been some reduction in LifeLink’s business. A lot of the tissue it provides is used for elective procedures and with more people are out of work and higher co-pays, some of those procedures have been delayed.

“In the meantime, we are controlling our costs and expenses by looking closely at everything we do,” said Shires. “We have several committees we’ve created over the years that help make sure we don’t incur any additional costs in any way, shape, or form.”

Another factor that helps the organization run efficiently and effectively is its commitment to hiring the right people and putting them through the proper paces. Technicians in the Tampa facility must go through two years of training and have to be certified by the American Association of Tissue Banks.

The commitment to the employees is a two-way street. The organization typically has a turnover rate in the single digits and many people have worked for LifeLink for more than a decade.

“For most people here, it’s a secure job in a safe environment,” said Shires. “Overall, I don’t think there is anything negative or more that you could ask for here, other than for more people saying yes to donations.”

Tissue grafts are made possible by people who designate themselves as donors, and thousands of Americans are waiting for allografts in order for their quality of life to be restored, according to Shires. He said it is important to recognize the efforts of those who do make donations.

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