A nationwide shortage of blood has left many hospitals scrambling to meet a rising demand for critical medical services, according to the American Red Cross and the Bon Secours Health System.
“We’re at the point now that we need a thousand additional blood donations a day to meet the need,” said Jonathan McNamara, communications director for the American Red Cross- Virginia Region. “Hospital demand is dramatically driving the situation.”
McNamara noted that three main factors are contributing to the shortage:
An increase in trauma cases such as gunshot wounds and other serious injuries.
The scheduling of elective surgeries that were postponed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Patients whose conditions have worsened over the course of the pandemic and now need more advanced surgical care.
The Virginia Department of Health put out an urgent call earlier this month for blood donations, stating that some elective surgeries are now being delayed until the blood supply is replenished.
Emma Swann, the director of public relations & communications for Bon Secours Health System, said that their hospitals have not yet reached that critical point but that doctors “are evaluating the need to postpone high-risk surgeries based on the pace of elective surgeries and on the status of our facilities’ blood supplies on hand. At this time, we aren’t canceling or postponing surgeries but (continually) considering our blood supplies.”
Blood usually can only be stored for up to 42 days, so the health care system relies on a continuous stream of blood donations. Summer traditionally is a time when donations are lower because schools are out and not holding blood drives, people are going on vacations and doing other warm-weather activities. This summer slump, combined with the unexpected rise in need, has led to a critical situation in Virginia and across the country.
“The Red Cross is a national blood provider, and the system is set up to move blood from anywhere to meet the need,” McNamara said. But those needs have increased everywhere, leaving blood in very short supply across the board.
“Hospitals need blood in all sorts of situations,” he said. “Besides elective and scheduled surgeries, a mother in labor may need emergency blood, for example. One major car accident can have a big impact on an individual hospital’s blood supply.”
Swann noted that patients who put off treatment during COVID may now have more advanced diseases and require increased blood transfusions or even organ transplants.
Health care providers are concerned about a possible “inability to provide blood products for patients with massive blood loss [due to] trauma, obstetric hemorrhage (or) aneurysm rupture,” Swann said. Right now, the American Red Cross is calling for donations of all types, McNamara said. “We need everybody, all blood types,” he said.
The Family YMCA of Emporia is holding a blood drive Wednesday, July 21, from noon to 6 p.m.
Swann also said that the Bon Secours Southern Virginia Medical Center in Emporia is holding a blood drive on Tuesday, July 27, in the A/B Conference Room.
People who want to donate also can visit redcrossblood.org and search by their zip code to find local blood donation opportunities.