blood services call centre

Canadian Blood Services says 20 people at the Saint John call centre are part of a supply line that makes the difference between life and death. (CBC)

Canadian Blood Services officially opened a national contact centre in Saint John with a ribbon-cutting ceremony held on Tuesday.

The 20 people working there are part of a supply line that connects patients with blood donors across the country. They have been taking calls since mid-October.

The Saint John Blood Services contact centre is one of only two in the country — the other is in Sudbury, Ont.

Mark Donnison, vice-president of donor relations, says staff call specific donors depending on the need.

“Our tele-recruitment staff are trained to help community members from coast to coast find out more about information on our donation programs, learn about whether you may be eligible to give, inform you of when patients need you most and of course to book an appointment," he said.

"This year we need to collect close to 900,000 donations of blood to keep up with hospital needs."

Donnison says demand never slows. He says half the donations the blood agency receives are booked through its call centres.

"We can call up specific lists of donors and target that group, and the response we get from the donors is always positive," he said.

Blood recipient Kristen Wheaton was on hand for Tuesday's opening. Wheaton, 30, received a liver transplant in July 2011. She said she needed blood before and after the surgery.

"I almost didn't make [it to] 28," said Wheaton, who waited 13 months for a new liver.

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the blood donors. Certainly I couldn't have survived without an organ donor, but without blood I couldn't have survived the surgery, and certainly not the wait for the organ."

Canadian Blood Services in Saint John was scaled back when its lab work was moved to Halifax. Now, the contact centre makes use of that available space.

Rocky period for call centre market 

The announcement on Tuesday comes after a rocky few months for the call centre industry in Saint John.

On Monday, Sitel revealed it's cutting 50 jobs at its Saint John location.

On Nov. 14, ExxonMobil announced it would be shutting down its Saint John office, putting 210 people out of work by June.

On Nov. 6, Iron Mountain Inc. announced it would also be shutting down its Saint John call centre. laying off 200 people beginning in February and ending in December.

Contact NB president Rob Campbell says despite the job losses, the outlook is good for the industry in New Brunswick.

"We have about a 22 year experience in this industry in New Brunswick and I think they looked at Saint John as the place to be and it made sense from a business perspective," he said.

On Nov. 26, TD Insurance announced it would be creating more than 275 jobs at its Saint John Client Service and Claims Response Centre by December 2016. Some of the jobs would be transferred from the office in Peterborough, Ont., officials said.

Unlike that announcement, the new Canadian Blood Services call centre is not tied to any provincial money.