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Blood Supply Shortages Are Confounding the System

By Steve Smith

The summer months have always been a challenging time for blood collections and efforts to maintain a sufficient blood supply. School-based blood drives can’t be held. Many people are away from work and home. This year, however, the challenge of maintain a good blood supply is compounded because at the same time many blood drives are canceled, treatments requiring blood transfusions are increasing as providers manage what’s been described as a “perfect storm” of rescheduled transplants, elective surgeries and trauma cases.

Some in the health care industry are saying the current blood shortage in the United States is the most severe in history. 

“There have been challenges with the blood supply throughout the pandemic” said Dr. Claudia S. Cohn, chief medical officer for AABB, formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks, and the associate director of clinical laboratories at the University of Minnesota. “The issue now is that the need for blood is increasing while the supply has not kept up. The majority of blood centers are now reporting a one-day supply or less of blood, far below the levels for which they normally strive. Some blood collection facilities have reported declines by as much as 50 percent below normal levels.”

Here in Florida, Lakewood Ranch-based SunCoast Blood Centers has been in dire need of donors to help it maintain blood supplies for the 14 hospitals it serves. The nonprofit must collect 150 units of blood per day to do that but, since May 28, 2021.it has collected fewer than 100 units per day.

SunCoast Blood Centers Community Liaison Joan Leonard, when speaking to Earle Kimel for his recent Sarasota Herald-Tribune feature, said, “The scariest part of that is, if you look at the 14 locations that we serve, really 10 units a day for each location isn’t enough. So, when we decrease it by one-third of what we’re collecting, somebody is going to be in trouble.” 

Among the 14 locations served by Suncoast Blood Centers are Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Doctors Hospital of Sarasota, Manatee Memorial Hospital and Englewood Community Hospital. 

The blood banks’ inventory is at its lowest level in a decade. In mid-March 2020, when the pandemic shut down businesses and schools, places where blood bank mobile units routinely connect with donors, SunCoast lost about 95 percent of its blood drives. Since many large area employers who have traditionally supported them still have employees working at home, it’s been impossible for them to host blood drives as they would have during “normal” times.

Another factor, perhaps unique to Florida blood banks, is the Canadian “Snowbirds” who donate regularly during their six-month Florida migration. Because of closed borders, they couldn’t show up. 

As a creative response to these difficult if not dire conditions for successful blood-banking, SunCoast has established a “concierge” service where a small Blood Center “bus” can roll up to an individual’s home to take their blood donation.  This seems like a win-win, but the bus can collect only six or eight units per day. If deployed in a shopping center parking lot or at a host business, it could collect three times that amount.

Let’s all help to keep our blood supply at a safe level. Please donate.

Read More:

Sarasota Herald-Tribune: SunCoast Blood Centers grapples with post-Memorial Day downturn in donors

From the AABB: Why Donate Blood?

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