U.S.: Blood Banks and Hospitals Struggle with Donor Scarcity

As Michigan people battle icy roads and winter weather, going to a blood drive isn’t on their agenda.

Blood donations are typically made in December and January because consistent donors are frequently on vacation and schools that may host blood drives are on winter break.

Even though students and holiday tourists have come home, recent poor weather has exacerbated the regular donor scarcity.

Blood banks and the hospitals they service are suffering the consequences.

“Our national blood supply remains critically low,” said David Olejarz, the American Red Cross’ regional communications director in Detroit. “We’ve had blood drives canceled in nearly every state where the Red Cross collects blood, primarily due to the severe weather that we’ve seen across the country.”

Nearly a dozen Red Cross blood drives were canceled across the state in the last week, resulting in a 285-unit blood shortage, according to Olejarz.

According to Olejarz, the weather has made it impossible to deliver blood from blood banks to hospitals that utilize it.

Blood shortages, according to Mitch Moosavi, the medical director of transfusion services for the Sparrow Health System in Lansing, can cause surgeries to be postponed and patients to be discharged later.

“A lot of times, blood is moved regionally across the United States, and if we have flights being canceled, that may impact components of our inventory,” he said. “That forces us into the difficult position of trying to figure out which patients need blood products the most, and which ones can wait until more product arrives.”

Dina Aper, laboratory manager at MyMichigan Health’s Alma and Mt. Pleasant medical facilities, says her hospital system is “really nervous, especially around the holidays.”

“None of us have been able to get the amount of blood that we actually want,” Aper went on to say. “When patients get into a car accident and they need blood urgently, we’re not able to do the typical testing on that patient that we normally would.”

Although the blood shortage is widespread, some blood banks fare better than others.

The Red Cross recently issued a nationwide emergency plea, saying that the scarcity “may delay medical procedures.”

Despite suffering similar issues, Versiti Blood Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, never reached inventory levels low enough to warrant an emergency appeal. Versiti is also a non-profit organization.

“We were able to continue to meet the needs of our hospitals,” Kristin Paltzer, Versiti’s public relations manager, stated.

“We take a very local approach,” Paltzer explained. “Because we are serving local hospitals and hosting drives in our local communities, that’s how we have been able to manage the availability (of blood), at least this season.”

Blood donated to Versiti in Michigan remains in Michigan, she said.

The American Red Cross, on the other hand, uses a different distribution strategy. “Because we’re a national network, the blood goes where it’s needed,” Olejarz went on to say.

Moosavi said he still respects the organization’s judgment, despite the fact that the Red Cross’s distribution techniques had previously had a negative impact on Sparrow Health.

“If there’s a significant blood shortage in, let’s say, California, or there’s a natural disaster, like a hurricane in Florida, we understand the need to move blood products to those high-risk areas to help patients,” he said. “And we understand that that sometimes impacts our patients as well.”

Pathologist Kyle Carr, Cadillac Hospital’s laboratory medical director, attributed his institution’s present success in navigating the shortage to solid communication with its vendor, Versiti, as well as closeness to donation sources.

“They’ve been really great about keeping us supplied and informing us when things are getting short,” added Carr. “We communicate to the best of our abilities that we may have issues.”

William Kanner, a pathologist and Munson Healthcare’s blood bank director, said that the closest Red Cross fixed site to Cadillac is in Petoskey, whereas Versiti has one in Traverse City.

Versiti has ten fixed facilities across the state, whilst the Red Cross has eight.

Carr said there are 13 Versiti blood drives scheduled in the Cadillac region over the next 30 days.

“They work really, really hard to make it as easy as possible for people who want to donate blood,” added Carr.

Aper links the variation in how hospitals handle the shortage to the amount of blood used. According to her, some communities may witness fewer incidences of blood illnesses, cancer, or other blood-related traumas.

Moosavi stated that city hospitals frequently do more “blood-heavy” procedures.

The Red Cross and Versiti share a common goal: to encourage people to donate blood.

Paltzer stated, “It’s something extremely basic that everyone can accomplish. It does not require a lot of time or effort. If you are terrified of needles, do not be. They will take wonderful care of you.

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