Interstate Blood and Plasma, the only plasma donation center within walking distance of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, will close its downtown location on Nov. 3, according to staff.
The location at 317 N. Henry St. — next to The Plaza Tavern — is one of roughly 30 Interstate centers closing nationwide, according to operations director Mitch Armstrong. The locations are all owned by Grifols, a Spanish pharmaceutical company.
“The reason corporate gave is, they're trying to be more efficient with the costs associated with collecting plasma,” Armstrong said. “And I think we just didn't make the cut.”
Grifols’ decision is a blow to UW-Madison students who relied on plasma donation to cover groceries, utilities and other college expenses.
“I'm disappointed in the management of that company because it's such a unique opportunity for college kids to be able to get in there, give to the community and also get something back in return,” UW-Madison junior Kaylin Gruen said.
Employees were told the location was closing because it wasn’t bringing in enough money, according to donor center technician and UW-Madison junior Charlotte Scarmardo. However, she said business has been “pretty consistent” at the downtown location, even since they stopped accepting new donors.
“There's a ton of students who come in, and sometimes we don't even have enough beds,” Scarmardo said.
Interstate’s locations on Madison’s west and east sides will remain open along with a BioLife location near East Towne Mall. However, with all locations more than 30 minutes away by bus, UW-Madison students will no longer have an accessible plasma donation center.
Students scrambling for solutions
UW junior Ethan Stratman donates plasma twice per week at Interstate. He makes upwards of $150 per week, depending on current rates, which he uses to cover food expenses during the semester.
“It’s really important, especially for full-time students who don’t necessarily have the time for a job on the side,” Stratman said.
Stratman has a part-time internship that will keep his finances afloat once Interstate closes. But not every student is as lucky.
“I'm really, actually, quite dependent on that money,” Kaylin Gruen said. “I know, for a lot of people, it’s their borrowing money or their fun money. But for me, that's grocery money that puts food on my table.”
Gruen plans to pick up extra hours at her job in Memorial Union and donate as much plasma as possible to support her finances before Interstate closes. But without reliable income from plasma donations, Gruen is worried she might have to rely on food banks.
Worse, Gruen is scrambling to find enough money for graduate school, something she says is a requirement if she plans to find a career as a communications major.
“I'm really just kind of on the fence right now, wondering if I should be pursuing a different field or taking out a loan,” she said. “I'm really trying to remain debt-free.”
Scarmardo faces a similar situation. She started at Interstate in August with plans to become a phlebotomist — someone who collects plasma from donors — and accumulate patient care hours for physician assistant’s school.
Once Interstate closes, she’ll need to find another phlebotomist position or become a certified nurse assistant to earn her required hours.
“I already feel like I'm behind getting patient care hours for PA school, so then having to find a new job and take some time off is really stressful,” Scarmardo said.
Most of all, Scarmardo will miss her co-workers, each of whom will need to find new jobs in just over a month.
“Even in such a short amount of time, I've really gotten to know all the nurses and the phlebotomists and the staff, and everyone is just a really cohesive team,” she said. “It's sad that everyone's getting split up.”
Tyler Katzenberger is the managing editor at The Daily Cardinal. As a former state news editor, he covered numerous protests and wrote state politics, healthcare, business and in-depth stories. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerKatzen.