Israel’s New National Blood Center Takes Shape

Israel’s New National Blood Center Takes Shape

Atlanta philanthropists Bernie and Billi Marcus donate $25 million to support the world’s first underground blood processing, testing, storage and distribution facility.

An IDF soldier receives blood.
An IDF soldier receives blood.

A new critically-needed national blood center in Israel, believed to be the world’s first underground facility of its kind, is taking shape as a result of a $25 million gift from the Atlanta-based Marcus Foundation. In 2016, the Marcus Foundation gave the money to help Magen David Adom build the blood center, now being called the Marcus National Blood Services Center.

That year the grant was announced at the American Friends of MDA’s annual Boca-Delray Community Event in Florida. Billi and Bernie Marcus, the Foundation’s co-founders, were honored with the Humanitarian of the Year award at the event.

The historic grant was the largest-ever benefiting MDA, Israel’s 86-year old national ambulance, blood-services and disaster-relief agency.

Construction on the blood services center continues to move forward swiftly. The facility’s retaining walls are now complete, and 95 percent of the surrounding soil has been removed. The next phase is expected to begin next month.

Blood center land excavation, located in Ramla, Israel.

The center, located in Ramla in central Israel, will be the world’s first underground blood processing, testing, storage, and distribution facility. It’s a critical national security and public health priority for the state of Israel, and MDA’s most ambitious capital project ever. The total cost of the project is $133 million, of which 75 percent has been raised.

MDA is responsible for all the blood needs of the IDF, while also providing 97 percent of the blood used by Israeli hospitals. The current blood center in Tel Hashomer, built in 1987 with funding from the American Friends of MDA, is vulnerable to rocket attack and biochemical terrorism. It also can no longer accommodate Israel’s growing population and does not meet Israel’s current building regulations for earthquake compliance.

The country has grown from 4.1 million people in the late 1980s to 8.5 million today. Israel’s population is expected to reach 10 million by 2030.

MDA’s most ambitious capital project ever, the total cost of the project is $133 million.

The current building is also a challenge in a country that sits on two active seismic fault lines, a real and imminent danger that’s been overshadowed by the wars and terrorist attacks Israelis have had to endure.

The blood supply is most commonly used to treat accident victims and people undergoing surgery, including soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces. The blood is seen as especially crucial to Israel, which has had to contend with intermittent periods of terrorism and multiple armed conflicts since its founding in 1948. And that, in particular, has made building a new blood center a national security priority for Israel.

The new blood center will be a safe, underground and secure complex, complete with sophisticated ventilation systems in the event of chemical attacks, and will also house state-of-the-art laboratories and blood processing units. And as Israelis continue dealing with a deadly wave of terrorist stabbings, shootings and car-ramming, the need for a clean and reliable blood supply has only been reinforced.

Bernie Marcus told the AJT, “We worked with MDA as it rethought ways to protect Israel’s national blood supply today and into the future. Having it in a safe and secure underground facility protects the blood transfusion supply from harm during missile attacks and earthquakes, ensuring availability of the blood Israelis need, when they need it.”

In an unprecedented decision in Israel, MDA will provide whole blood units to the IDF Medical Corps to treat injured soldiers in the field. The decision will improve the chances of saving the lives of soldiers who need immediate blood transfusions – even while still in the field. Blood units are divided into three groups: platelets, plasma and red blood cells. Typically, when a solider needs a blood transfusion in the field, three different bags must be used for each of those components, all under the watchful eye of MDA and the IDF Medical Corps.

MDA blood will provide whole blood units to the Israel Defense Forces Medical Corps.

However, recent studies have shown that whole blood units of universal type O blood, with low antibody rates, are more effective in treating the wounded on the battlefield. In addition, the need to transport only one blood bag for each transfusion allows the operational medical units to treat more soldiers with fewer blood units and save more soldiers’ lives.

The IDF’s decision comes after studying the United States’ military experiences in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where research indicated that providing whole blood to soldiers was a safe and easy-to-implement approach for medical rescue teams.

“The connection between the blood services of MDA and the IDF is unique. The fact that about a quarter of the blood units in Israel are donated by IDF soldiers should not be taken for granted, especially in view of the many difficult tasks the IDF has to cope with,” said professor Eilat Shinar, director of MDA’s National Blood Services division. “I am proud that we at the MDA Blood Services are attentive to the requirements of the IDF and are able to make every effort to enable the Medical Corps to stand at the front line and to provide advanced, modern and updated treatment for the injured.”

Because of the sensitivity of the work, six contractors who submitted requests for proposals in May had to be pre-qualified by the Israeli government to work on high-security projects. Bids and proposals were received in late August, and the winner will be determined shortly.

To learn more about Magen David Adom’s life-saving work in Israel or to support its efforts, contact AFMDA’s Southeast Region Director Tammy Karu: or 800-626-0046 or toll-free, 561-835-0510.

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