On his first day on the job at Blood Assurance in Chattanooga, JB Gaskins rolled up a sleeve and made his first blood donation.
As the new CEO of one of Tennessee's biggest blood banks, Gaskins said some wondered why the voluntary blood donation was his first act on the job with so many pressing challenges from the 200-employee staff, which helps collect, test and distribute about 110,00 units of blood a year across 51 counties in parts of five states.
"I think it's important to lead by example so even though a lot of people thought it was strange, I said I need to make an appointment and donate," Gaskins recalls. "We ask people to take the time and donate every day and I wanted to make that a priority for me as well. My goal is to donate at each of our 16 fixed locations."
Gaskins, who began his career as a part-time phlebotomist on a blood-mobile while at the University of Florida, has worked at blood banks for 36 years and was previously senior vice president for OneBood Services in St. Petersburg, Florida — the third biggest blood bank in the country. In September, he succeeded Rick Youngblood, who served as Blood Assurance president in Chattanooga since 2009,
"Becoming CEO of a blood bank such as this is really the pinnacle of my career and feel like I was blessed beyond belief to be asked to come here and to take this job," Gaskins says.
In Chattanooga, Gaskins will have only one job for one of the first times in his career. While working at blood banks in Florida, Alabama and North Dakota, Gaskins has also served in the U.S. Army Reserve as a Lieutenant Colonel and Command and General Staff College Instructor. The 59-year-old reservist retired this year after 30 years in the military.
"Even though by father and brothers served in the Navy, I didn't join the reserves until I was 29," Gaskins says. "It was great experience and I learned a great deal about leadership from the military."
Blood Assurance is a non-profit, full-service regional blood center serving more than 76 health-care facilities in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. Founded in 1972 as a joint effort of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society, the Chattanooga Area Hospital Council, and the Chattanooga Jaycees, Blood Assurance has 16 locations and 13 blood-mobiles.
Only about 37 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood and only about 5 percent of the population donates blood at least once in their life, Gaskins said. The typical blood donor gives 1.6 times per year, but Gaskins is eager to find ways to boost donor frequency and retention by helping donors appreciate the life-saving importance of their contributions.
Gaskins commitment to the importance of blood donations and blood banks began early when at age 10 he watched his sister in surgery receive 85 units of blood after she was in a automobile accident in Florida. More recently his older brother Tim required blood transfusions for his cancer treatment at an MD Anderson Cancer Center.