Customer Chat: LifeSouth’s Covid-19 Pivot

OpsRamp customer LifeSouth is a non-profit community blood bank based in Gainesville, Florida, and serving more than 100 hospitals in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. With 925 employees, LifeSouth has more than 30 donor centers, 55 blood mobiles and nearly 1,000 blood drives a month. Daniel Kerr, Configuration Management Engineer with LifeSouth Community Blood Centers, shared the current IT challenges and projects at his organization.

OpsRamp: How has Covid-19 affected LifeSouth’s business, in terms of demand or new offerings made available to your customers

DK: As a response to the pandemic, we have started a new service, which is to provide Covid-19 antibody testing to all donors. We are now testing for four different antibodies and are soon adding two more. We have acquired machines to do the assay testing and are collecting 1500 samples a day. The kits are pricey, but blood centers are receiving some federal aid to offset those costs. We also introduced a convalescent plasma donation service. Research has shown that this plasma is beneficial for recovery in Covid-19 patients and also other diseases. These new services are providing an uptick in donations, but people are still afraid to come into a donation center.

OpsRamp: What changes or new challenges have you needed to address within IT during this time?

DK: Work from home has had a major effect on our network as a whole. We went from a handful of remote workers to as many as 100 people working from home, which was quite a strain on IT. We needed more licenses to allow for VPN access which suddenly experienced a 400% increase. We didn’t have enough ports, much less bandwidth for all this extra web traffic through the VPN. Our network has been taxed more than ever, and I have been here for two decades. We have had to make some network investment upgrades. On the other hand, many of our employees cannot work remotely because we are a biologics manufacturer. We can’t collect blood or process it remotely. So we’ve got a hybrid workforce strategy, and that can be pretty complicated.

OpsRamp: LifeSouth is using OpsRamp to help meet FDA regulatory requirements. Can you explain?

DK: Our blood bank management software is a regulated medical device because it can directly impact someone’s health and life. There are also industry associations which have other requirements. We need tight enforcement on integrity and access to all of our systems that touch electronic personal health information and the blood bank software. In fact, we cannot make any changes to the core functionality of our software without FDA approval.  We need to document why we need a change, how we did it, how any changes we made did not do something unintended, and that we are monitoring those changes in a live environment. OpsRamp gives us excellent bang for the buck to meet those needs.

We use OpsRamp to have full auditing of third-party contractors who connect into our network. It’s very easy to add and remove someone from having access to certain systems."

We often need tight access control, and we can do this in minutes now, without needing to do any configurations or testing. Normally, this work can take the bulk of a day. And we don't have to pay a help desk person to watch contractors do their work online. It's all recorded in OpsRamp and we can go back and look at who did what and when.

OpsRamp: What are other healthcare industry requirements or challenges that affect how you manage and monitor your IT environment?

DK: Most of our changes and our decisions are driven by industry needs. Covid-19 has had a huge impact on our systems, staffing and organization. We’ve needed to pivot and tackle the epidemic headfirst, from making new capital purchases for equipment along with meeting standard compliance requirements. The FDA is getting better every year at figuring out what to audit and inspect. They are much more nuanced concerning gaps in processes and we need to determine how to respond. Can we address gaps with new processes or with software? A challenge to the nonprofit world is that we cannot predict how many people will donate nor how many will donate usable products. This makes it really hard to project financials so we need to be extremely efficient. Regulatory compliance is a top priority, along with meeting the needs and requests of our donors.

OpsRamp: Is your team working differently now?

DK: We are continually pivoting because of the ever-changing requirements for donations. I don’t think we have ever had this much change in our software in such a short period of time. Yet this is also a positive thing in terms of better processes. Once you have gone down the road with DevOps you don’t want to go back, because the old way wasn’t that great. We are now catching things that break so much faster.

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