The pandemic has caused many supply chain bottlenecks in daily life, but few are as critical as America’s ever-shrinking blood banks. For the American Red Cross, which provides about 40% of the nation’s blood, and other nonprofit blood centers, the problem lies primarily at the top of the chain: the dwindling number of healthy donors.
“It’s the biggest challenge I’ve seen in my 30 years in business,” Chris Hrouda, president of biomedical services for the American Red Cross, said Thursday in an interview.
Blood donations typically decline at this time of year, when the holiday season, winter weather, seasonal illness, travel, and school and university vacations cause donor participation to decline. But Mr Hrouda said this month’s national supply had dropped to levels the Red Cross had not seen in 10 years.
“We just like to keep three days of inventory,” he said. “It’s difficult to hold out one day. Blood takes up to three days to be tested and prepared for patients.
Remote working, cancellations of blood drives, and college and business limits on the number of people allowed in public spaces have all reduced donor participation.
“We just didn’t have as much access as we had hoped for this fall,” Hrouda said.
Compounding the problem, the Red Cross, like many employers, is struggling to attract and retain employees amid the pandemic.
The critical shortage is forcing hospitals to more carefully allocate the precious resource. “We haven’t had to delay any cases yet, but we’re very careful about our blood supply,” said Dr. Jennifer Andrews, medical director of the blood bank at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. Donated blood is essential for surgeries, cancer treatment, chronic illnesses and traumatic injuries.
Vanderbilt, the only level one trauma center in its area, has recalibrated the transfusions they use to save patients – using fewer red blood cells – to make sure there are enough for everyone. “We still think it’s safe and we know it saves lives,” Dr Andrews said.
Other hospitals have changed the treatment of some patients or canceled some surgeries, Red Cross officials said.
At Vanderbilt, “elective surgery postponed today is emergency surgery tomorrow,” said Dr Andrews. Medical staff organized two to three blood drives a month, up from one before the pandemic, to help replenish supplies at the center, she said. But more is needed.
The country’s blood supply also faced a severe shortage after March 2020, as the first wave of coronavirus spread across the country. Blood drives were called off when businesses closed, and many people – especially older Americans, who have traditionally been the most frequent donors – feared going to donation centers. Around this time, the FDA relaxed some restrictions to help reverse the drastic drop in supply.
“We have overcome the fear of any kind of risk associated with a blood drive,” said Hrouda, who noted that the supply had largely bounced back until the Delta variant started to spill out in the summer. last. Blood bank managers hope that supply will catch up with demand again.
“Every unit of blood gives life to someone,” said Dr Andrews. “This holiday season you can give life. “
Do you want to donate blood? You must be at least 17 years old in most states and in good health. You can Register online with the American Red Cross, call 1-800-RED-CROSS, or find a donation site by American blood centers. You can also call your local hospital to see if blood donation is accepted there.