Strapped for cash, Tiffani Morrison endured six hours of waiting at CSL Plasma in Medford Monday, hoping to get hooked up to a machine that separates plasma from blood.
"I've been donating plasma to get food," said the 41-year-old Talent resident, who is going through Rogue Community College's nursing program. "With the economy the way it is, it's a creative way to make a little extra cash."
Must weigh at least 110 pounds
Many college students like Morrison are willing to tolerate a needle in their arm twice a week to supplement their income. After the plasma is separated from the blood, the remaining blood cells are returned to the body.
Morrison said she receives $800 a month in unemployment compensation, and after a $500 rent payment little is left for other expenses. She was a plasma donor when she lived in Arizona, but this was her first time at CSL Plasma in Medford, which saw hundreds of donors show up Monday.
"They're looking for more people," said Morrison, who waited hours while filling out paperwork and sitting in line. "It's been a long morning."
Donors can receive up to $300 for the first month, though that can depend on incentive programs and a sliding scale. If they go twice a week, donors can average about $35 a week.
Business is booming at the Medford CSL center, which plans to add 15 employees to its current total of 75.
"For CSL Plasma, it is a large center," said Chris Florentz, spokesman for CSL. An average-sized facility has 45 employees. He said the center's impact on the economy — from wages and donor compensation — exceeds $5 million a year.
Donations were on the increase nationally even before the recession hit. In 2005, plasma donations numbered 10 million, increasing to 12.5 million in 2006 and 15 million in 2007. By 2008, plasma donations hit 18.5 million, Florentz said.
Plasma, a yellowish liquid, is extracted from the blood and used for medications and in operations.
Donors are screened, and the plasma is pasteurized as a further precaution to ensure there are no infectious agents in the blood.
At the Medford facility, potential donors are asked to show their arms to make sure they aren't using intravenous drugs.
If a person has received a tattoo or piercing during the past year, they are also excluded, said Florentz, adding that he couldn't reveal the type of testing used on a donor's blood.
Todd Morehead, a 38-year-old Medford resident and RCC student, said Monday was the first time he had signed up to give plasma.
"I'm using it for gas money," he said. "Gas prices are getting crazy."
A health and physical education student, Morehead said he doesn't like needles or the long wait.
"It's hectic down here," he said. "I've been here almost three hours reading my books."
Morehead said he wasn't sure how he'd like being hooked up to the machine for about 45 minutes while the plasma is extracted, but thought he could do it twice a week.
"If it's not a painful process, why not?" he said.
The American Red Cross also relies on college students for blood donations.
"Our college students tend to be outstanding donors," said Donna Taylor, donor and sponsor representative for the Red Cross. "One population that has increased donations is college students."
She said she didn't have statistics or any way of measuring the impact the plasma facility is having on Red Cross blood donations.
She did say, however, "We do need more blood donors to keep up with the continuous supply."
Unlike the plasma facility, no money is exchanged for blood donations at the Red Cross.
Taylor said she has friends who have given plasma to get extra money.
"I have friends who are college students, and they are struggling," she said.
The Medford Police Department reports only a minimal number of problems at the CSL center over the past two years.
A total of 41 complaints have been received — none drug related, said Lt. Bob Hanson.
"Two a month — that's not too bad," he said.
Police arrested 16 people for causes ranging from disorderly conduct to outstanding warrants.
The parking lot is often filled with cars and people milling about. Donors often wait for hours at CSL, particularly if it's their first time.
Morrison, who waited six hours at CSL Monday, was finally turned down because she was running a slight temperature. "If you are a little dehydrated or run down, they won't let you donate," she said.
Disappointed, Morrison said she plans to go back later this week.
"If I could think of a different way to make money, I would do it," she said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.