Oregon and Washington face ‘devastating’ blood shortage

Health

Blood supply reaches 'unprecedented' low

FILE: A machine separates plasma from donated blood. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Blood service organizations like the American Red Cross and Bloodworks Northwest have called on the public for help, as the region reaches unprecedented blood shortage levels.

“There is truly an unprecedented, prolonged national blood shortage,” said Bloodworks Northwest Executive Vice President of Blood Services, Vicki Finson. “I would call it a crisis.”

Finson said the dire, pre-existing need for donors was exacerbated by recent inclement weather, staff shortages, and the Omicron variant surge.

“Locally, as we speak right now, we have less than 50% of a one-day supply of blood,” Finson explained.

File image (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

American Red Cross Regional Biomedical Services Support Manager for the Pacific Northwest Region, Mack Fitz-Gerald told KOIN 6 News road closures caused by the winter storms have forced the organization to close blood drives and cancel blood transport to local hospitals in need.

“In the last two weeks alone, the Red Cross in our Pacific Northwest region has seen about 1,000 units lost,” said Fitz-Gerald. “That is critical to us. That is 3,000 potential lives that have been affected. And the only way we can make that better is to try and get the donors in the door now to help fulfill that need.”

He added, “To most people 1000 units doesn’t sound like much, but to us it is detrimental. It’s a huge loss. When we’re already impacted by COVID, and the normal deficit as it is, this is really devastating.”

Although, Bloodworks Northwest and The American Red Cross both claim to be experiencing ongoing staff shortages, the organization’s prospectively told KOIN 6 News they have enough staff to meet the rise in demand and service incoming donors.

“We do have adequate staff to be collecting way more blood than we are right now. But it is impacting our ability to set up pop-ups,” Finson stated. “I don’t think anyone has gone without a transfusion, but I know there have been delays.”

According to Fitz-Gerald, the severe lack of blood donations comes down to a matter of life and death.

FILE – This Monday, March 9, 2020 file photo shows donated blood in a transportation case at The American Red Cross donation center in Scranton, Pa. Due to the flu season and coronavirus, donations to The American Red Cross are down across the country. (Jake Danna Stevens/The Times-Tribune via AP)

“You don’t want to use the word death, but that’s exactly what it is,” he explained. “The blood product services and platelets go to the hospitals for a reason, whether it be for surgeries or other life saving issues.”

Fitz-Gerald continued, “So, if we’re not getting it [blood] there, and patients are postponing surgeries or not having procedures done, that could have a detrimental impact on those individual’s lives.”

Bloodworks Northwest currently has all centers open. Blood donations can be scheduled online and are available by appointment only.

Finson said, sometimes appointments go quickly — but that doesn’t mean the need has been met. She recommends making an appointment for a later time, if possible.

The nation’s blood shortages, a result of increased trauma cases, transplants and elective surgeries amid the pandemic, have put stress on hospitals across the country. (Getty Images)

“You might try to make an appointment and not find something and think, ‘Oh gosh, they don’t need me.’ Yes we do!” Exclaimed Finson. “We draw blood 364 days of the year, patients are transfused 365 days. This is ongoing, it’s forever, and everyday. So don’t get discouraged. Whenever you donate, you’re helping.”

The American Red Cross is accepting blood donor appointments online, through their app, and over the phone at: 1-800-398-7888.

“Having these shortages and patients not be able to have their lives saved due to the blood not being there is a huge problem right now.” Fitz-Gerald said. “The number one reason why people don’t donate is because they weren’t asked. So we just need to put the ask out there. We desperately need it, the patients need it.”

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