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Doctors and patients are facing tough choices because of the national blood crisis

A phlebotomist tends to a blood donor during the Starts, Stripes, and Pints blood drive event in Louisville, Ky., in July. Rising numbers of organ transplants, trauma cases, and elective surgeries postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic have caused an increase in the need for blood products.
Jon Cherry
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A phlebotomist tends to a blood donor during the Starts, Stripes, and Pints blood drive event in Louisville, Ky., in July. Rising numbers of organ transplants, trauma cases, and elective surgeries postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic have caused an increase in the need for blood products.

Dozens of hospitals and trauma centers across the country say they're in dire need of blood donations after what the American Red Cross is now calling a nationwide blood crisis.

The Red Cross said in a statement this week that the dangerously low blood supply levels are posing a concerning risk to patient care, resulting in medical staff making difficult decisions on who receives blood transfusions and who will need to wait until more blood is readily available.

In recent weeks, the Red Cross — which provides nearly 40% of the nation's blood — said it had less than a one-day supply of critical blood types and has had to limit blood product distributions to hospitals.

The organization says that at times, up to one-quarter of hospital blood needs are not being met. Additionally, the pandemic has also contributed to a 62% drop in blood drives at schools and colleges.

"Winter weather across the country and the recent surge of COVID-19 cases are compounding the already-dire situation facing the blood supply," said Dr. Baia Lasky, medical director for the Red Cross.

In Los Angeles County, health officials said one of its trauma centers, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, had to close its doors for a couple of hours earlier this week because of the blood shortage — a step county officials said it had not taken in more than 30 years.

"Without [an] adequate blood supply, hospitals will be limited in the number of surgeries they can perform. The blood shortage in combination with the current surge will likely result in delays and cancellations of scheduled surgeries," Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county's health services director, told NPR in a statement.

Ghaly said unless the county sees an immediate reprioritizing of the current blood supply to trauma centers by blood banks across Southern California, more of them could be forced to close down more in the coming weeks — and for longer periods of time.

Similarly in Mississippi, officials with Mississippi Blood Services (MBS) told local TV station WJTV that blood donors are increasingly harder to obtain. And given that the dip in donated blood is hitting hospitals hard across the state, many patients are being told they have to wait.

"We need to see anywhere from 200 to 250 donors every day to meet those needs. Right now, we're seeing about 100 to 150 donors," Merle Eldridge, the director of donor recruitment for MBS, told WJTV.

The nationwide blood crisis is also impacting hospitals in other states, such as Montana, Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina and Michigan.

The Red Cross is asking donors of all blood types, but particularly those with Type O, to make an appointment now to give in the weeks ahead. Additionally, it's also seeking volunteers to help out at blood drives and transport blood products to hospitals.

For an added incentive, the Red Cross is partnering with the NFL this month for National Blood Donor Month. Those who donate blood, platelets or plasma will automatically be entered for a chance to win two tickets to the upcoming Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles, as well as a home theater package and a $500 electronic gift card to watch the game at home.

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