Red Cross Hosts Local Blood Drive Amid Emergency Shortage

Blood supplies drop to lowest post-summer levels since 2015; local donation opportunities scheduled through Oct. 13

By Skye Lucas
A Red Cross blood drive at the Church at Creston in Creston on Jan. 6, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

American Red Cross says its blood inventory is the lowest it’s been at this time of year since 2015 and that for the supply to recover to meet hospital and patient needs, 10,000 additional units of blood must be collected each week over the next month.

According to Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer for the Red Cross, the national blood supply typically rebounds in fall since donors are more available to give than during the busy summer months. This year, however, has presented unique challenges.

As COVID-19 cases spiked in August, blood donor participation decreased by about 10%, but blood product distributions to hospitals have remained strong, significantly outpacing blood donations in recent weeks.

The blood shortage, among other shortages, is in part due to pandemic-related delays. Elective surgeries and other procedures postponed due to the pandemic have been rescheduled, and some of the operations require more aggressive therapies and more blood units following the postponement.

In addition to mounting COVID-19 case numbers, trauma departments nationwide are experiencing an increase in accident-related injuries: a single car accident victim can require as many as 100 units of blood. Donors typically donate one unit, which is approximately 200mL of red blood cells.

“While it’s clear the pandemic continues to weigh heavily on our minds, the Red Cross asks the public to remember donating blood is essential to the many patients who rely on lifesaving transfusions every day,” Young said.

In a Sept. 27 press release, American Red Cross said the supply of type O negative blood, the most needed blood type by hospitals, dropped to well below the ideal five-day supply. Type O negative blood is needed in emergencies, before the patients’ blood type is known and with newborns who need blood.

Four types of transfusable products can be derived from blood: red cells, platelets, plasma and cryoprecipitate. Typically, two or three of these products are produced from a pint of donated blood and consequently each donation can save up to three lives, according to Matt Ochsner, the Idaho and Montana regional communications director for Red Cross.

“Many Montana families depend on your donation,” Ochsner said. “Cancer patients, those with sickle cell anemia, anybody undergoing surgery and expecting mothers in Montana benefit from your donation.”

According to Ochsner, about 25% of blood units help patients receiving cancer treatments who may need blood, sometimes daily, during their chemotherapy treatment.

To donate blood, individuals need to bring a blood donor card or driver’s license, or two other forms of identification that are required at check-in. After donating, donors can track their blood’s journey using the Blood Donor app and see which hospital receives their blood to help patients in need.

Information given to the American Red Cross during the donation process is confidential. Once blood is collected from Montana donors, it is processed and sent to a testing laboratory in Great Falls to establish the blood type and test for infectious diseases. Afterwards, safe blood donations are transported to about 30 hospitals statewide and many more across the country.

“Montana donors have been incredibly generous. Every year we see a good turnout and I hope to see that generosity last,” Ochsner said. “Now is the time to raise your hand, roll up your sleeve and donate.”

Ongoing blood drives in the Flathead will continue through Oct. 13 at various locations.

Make an appointment to give blood as soon as possible by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

For those interested in helping to host a blood drive in the valley, call 1-800-272-6668.

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