Blood supply is depleted, affecting patient care

After the holidays, it’s normal for the nation’s vital blood supply to dwindle in hospitals and blood banks as donations slow.

This year, with fears about COVID-19 and the omicron variant keeping donors away or making them sick, blood centers say the shortage is worse than usual.

The American Red Cross, which supplies 40% of the country’s blood, says supplies are dangerously low. Some hospitals are canceling non-emergency surgeries, while others are reporting that they are almost out of blood.

Here’s why supplies are so tight and what needs to be done to get them back to normal:


WHY THE SHORTAGE?

The American Red Cross and hospital systems in the Carolinas, Idaho, Minnesota, Louisiana, Mississippi and elsewhere are reporting extremely low supplies, largely because omicron scared or made donors sick . It’s a national problem with pockets of severe shortages.

Through the end of January in North Carolina, for example, about 75% of donation appointments were unfilled, up from 56% a year earlier. Additionally, throughout the pandemic, blood drives organized by employers and colleges have often been canceled due to shutdowns or work-from-home policies.

Blood banks and hospital officials say they face the worst shortage in more than a decade after donations plummeted 10% since the start of the pandemic, further complicated by sick workers at centers donation and supply chain pressure on needles, bags and other equipment .

DOES IT AFFECT THE TREATMENT?

Some hospitals have had to postpone surgeries because they didn’t have enough blood to cover emergencies that might arise the same day, said Nancy Foster, vice president of the American Hospital Association.

Last week in Idaho, many hospitals had to implement standards that allowed them to ration care due to low supply as well as understaffing.

“This is a critical situation because it forces doctors to make a very difficult decision about who receives a blood transfusion and who has to wait until there are additional products available,” said the national spokeswoman for the Red Cross, Carl Dighton.

IS THE OFFER IMPROVING?

Supplies rose slightly after the Red Cross declared a national crisis in mid-January, but officials say it will take months to return to more comfortable levels.

The Association for the Advancement of Blood and Biotherapies, or AABB, a group representing the nation’s blood suppliers, said on Tuesday there was about a three-day supply of type O blood used for blood transfusions. emergency, above extremely low levels. but below the optimal value of five days.

“People are starting to move forward, but this is a long-term issue that we will need help with for many, many months, in part because the demand for surgery continues to be high right now,” said Foster.

HOW CAN THE COUNTRY RETURN TO NORMAL?

Experts say it will take a lot of work to persuade donors to return to regular donations and keep the supply chain full.

The AABB is leading a group of hospitals, healthcare providers and blood collection organizations to tackle the problem. The 17-member group will share ideas on increasing supplies, such as coordinating advertising campaigns to have more impact.

“AABB encourages all eligible donors to make and keep an appointment to donate blood now – and to make blood donation a regular habit,” said Dr Claudia Cohn, the group’s chief medical officer. “Donating regularly will help keep the blood supply stable, so that blood is always available to patients when needed.”

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