By Lindsay Gallo
On Tuesday October 18, I paced through the claustrophobic Inova Health System van and watched the blood of my classmates ooze into a large, clear, plastic bag. Many Potomac School juniors, seniors, and teachers reclined in large chairs that resembled a chair in a dentist’s office. They watched their own blood rush from the needle stuck in their arm, funnel through a small circular tube, and waterfall into the bag hanging beside them. Some of the students’ faces were pale as ghosts, while other students’ watched this process with great amusement. A line curved around the side of the bus as students anxiously waited for their turn. Surprisingly, when they entered the Inova Health System blood van, an employee took each individual into a small glass room and questioned them about medicine, anemia, and other factors that would prohibit them from donating blood. At the opposite end of the bus was a three person, blue couch where donators were required to sit until they no longer felt light-headed. The Inova crew stocked snacks such as Cheez-Its and Oreos, and drinks like Capri-Sun, Water, and other juices to help give energy and sugar back to the donators. Once the donor was fully capable of functioning normally, they left. However, many students left the van without donating because of Inova’s strict safety requirements.
The Inova Health System is much larger than an overcrowded van that collects blood at The Potomac School once a year. In fact, it is actually Northern Virginia’s leading not-for-profit health care provider. Inova serves over one million people per year. Inova began in 1956 as a single hospital, however, it currently has a network of hospitals, such as: the Inova Alexandria Hospital, the Inova Fairfax Hospital, the Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children, the Inova Fair Oaks Hospital, the Inova Loudoun Hospital, the Inova Mount Vernon Hospital, and others. In 2010, Inova had 1, 753 licensed hospital beds and a hospital in patient admission of 95, 616 people. In addition, the Inova Health System has many emergency facilities, urgent care facilities, healthcare centers, assisted and long-term care facilities, and outpatient services. These facilities and services especially helped in 2010 with Inova’s 369,264 emergency visits. However, the Inova Health System truly thrives because of the dedication of their 16,000 employees.
The Inova Health System strives to “meet the healthcare needs and improve the health of the communities we serve.” The Inova team accomplishes this goal by working to fix the current healthcare needs while keeping the future in mind. When it comes to keeping the future in mind, the Inova Health System focuses a significant amount of their attention on helping the environment.
Initially, I was surprised to see such a large environmental emphasis from a health organization that runs numerous hospitals and charity events like the blood drive held at Potomac this past week. The Inova Health System runs an array of environmental events that are both educational and fun for their patients, employees, and outside communities. The Inova team has an environmental goal stated in their Sustainability Report, which outlines their environmental success, each year: “Inova Health System is committed to establishing an environmental program that contributes to a safer and healthier environment for our patients, employees, and community.” The environmental initiatives are just another example of how involved the Inova Health System truly is with its entire surrounding community in multiple fields beyond medicine. Their environmental events are a way for individuals to get involved in Inova programs similar to the blood drive.
However, when I think about the Inova programs and the blood drive, I am reminded of the first time I tried to donate last spring. I also waited in line and went into the glass room with a nurse. We sat across a small wood table while she nicely questioned me. She posed small questions like, how long ago was your last ear piercing and who did it? When did you last eat? How much do you weigh? Are you anemic? Unfortunately, like many other students, I fell into one of the categories that disabled me from donating; I did not weigh enough. As I exited the bus with my good friend who was anemic and my other friend did not have her ear pierced professionally, I thought to myself, why is it so difficult to donate blood? I knew the answer was safety, however, I could not help but continue to question why it was so difficult when the need for donations was so large.
On October 18, I watched many other Potomac students and faculty leave the van with disappointed faces similar to mine last year. Groups of students meandered by me all thinking the same things; why did such a small factor stop them from donating? One girl exclaimed, “My best friend pierced my ear, I obviously do not have a disease,” and her friend responded, “they have to test the blood before the patient receives it anyway.” I also felt frustration, wondering why the team refused to let such a significant number of people donate especially when the blood is tested regardless of how many questions the donator answered “correctly.” Why do they even bother to ask questions if they are going to test the blood? These questions resurface each time I see the Inova bus at Potomac or on the streets of Washington, DC.