Retirement Is Just Not in Dr. Charles Rouault’s Blood
For some people, retirement comes easily, but not for Charles Rouault, M.D. Now UHealth and the Miller School are set to reap the benefits of his nearly four decades in the blood industry.
“I don’t think you can go from being active and involved to being inactive and uninvolved,” Rouault said of his February retirement as president and CEO of Community Blood Centers of Florida. “There is only so much puttering around you can do before you run out of stuff to putter. And I don’t play golf.”
So, after leading the blood centers for 29 years, and transforming the organization from one of the nation’s youngest and smallest to one of the largest and best, Rouault could manage only three months of leisure. Unable to shake his desire to get back to work, he is now professor of pathology (rank pending) at the Miller School and associate director of transfusion services for UHealth.
“Most people want to know they are doing something productive that other people derive benefit from,’’ Rouault said. “That’s the way I felt about my former job, and that’s why it was important for me to continue working at an institution where I’ll be able to make a valuable contribution. I look forward to patient care and teaching.”
As the associate director of transfusion services, Rouault will interact with nearly every clinical department.
And although he hadn’t lectured to medical students or residents since his earlier professorship in the late 1970s, his first Miller School forum—for advanced pathology and hematology-oncology residents—went well. (“They didn’t tar and feather me,” he jokes.) It’s easy to see why. Rouault can share not only his vast medical knowledge, which he sprinkles with wry humor, but his insider’s view of one of medicine’s most critical industries.
“UM and the Department of Pathology are extremely fortunate to have such a distinguished physician on our faculty,” said Richard Cote, M.D., professor and chair of pathology and director of the Biomedical Nanoscience Institute. “Charles has made a tremendous impact on the South Florida community over the past 29 years, both as a physician and as a community leader. His expertise is invaluable to the continued progression of our clinical, teaching and partnership with community missions.”
Under Rouault’s watch, Community Blood Centers of Florida grew from 20,000 whole blood donors a year to 340,000, and from 25 employees to 850. It also evolved into the major blood supplier to the 42 hospitals in southeast Florida.
Among his many accomplishments, Rouault is proud that he and the center staff developed volunteer rather than paid donor bases, particularly in the Cuban-American and black communities, which historically were not part of the volunteer donor base. To maintain an adequate blood supply in a multicultural region where appeals to donate blood often ran into cultural barriers, Rouault and his team enlisted school boards, hospital administrators, and local medical and professional groups. Collaboration, Rouault says, was crucial to their success.
“We knew what the problems were, but we also knew we had to work together to solve them,” Rouault said. “You haven’t heard of any blood shortages in South Florida in well over a decade, and we eliminated most transfusion-associated issues to a point where nobody even thinks about it anymore. Now, this is standard in South Florida: the bloodmobile pulls up, people go in and donate, and we have an adequate blood supply. It really is something the community should be very proud it did.”
Rouault was drawn to a career in blood and transfusion services during his residency at Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, New York, when he needed to fulfill a second-year clinical training module and chose the blood bank lab. There, he worked with the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system, which plays a crucial role in the compatibility of donor organs.
“We have come a long, long way in the HLA world,’’ Rouault noted. “Tissue matching, control of organ rejection, graft versus host diseases, and all the blood products are very different from where we were 25 years ago. Now there are better ways of preserving blood cells, platelets and plasma. They are far safer, easier to use, and have fewer side effects.”
Rouault’s work in that world took him to the University of Southern California School of Medicine, where he was assistant professor of pathology and director of the blood bank at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center. He settled in Florida as the blood center’s top administrator in 1982.
Now, Rouault says, his career has come full circle and he’s eager, once again, to share technical and practical information with students and residents.
“This is an important area,’’ he said. “Of all the clinical labs, there is only one that, if it falls apart, the hospital has to close. That’s the transfusion service.”