As many Americans return to prepandemic lifestyles, hospitals are facing a new issue: a desperate need for blood.
Over the past few months, hospitals have seen a rise in trauma cases, organ transplants and elective surgeries, prompting a national blood shortage, the American Red Cross said last week.
The lack of blood is so great that some hospitals are pumping the brakes on the pace of elective surgeries and “delaying crucial patient care,” until blood supply levels rebound, Chris Hrouda, president of Red Cross Biomedical Services, said in a statement.
“The Red Cross is currently experiencing a severe blood shortage,” Mr. Hrouda said, adding that the organization was working to distribute more blood than expected over the past three months. “But we can’t do it without donors. Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood.”
The demand for blood is not new. There was also a shortage last year when blood donation centers were forced to close because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But in some ways, it seems more dire than before. During last year’s shortage, for example, Brian Gannon, chief executive of the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center in Texas, said his organization had one or two days’ worth of Type O red blood cells, down from a normal supply of three to four days’ worth.
In recent weeks, Type O blood supply has been down to half a day’s worth, according to the Red Cross, which said there was also an “emergency need” for the donation of platelets, half of which go to patients undergoing cancer treatments.
Dr. Merlyn Sayers, president and chief executive of Carter BloodCare, based in Texas, called the need for blood a “national crisis.”
“Carter BloodCare dreads reaching the point, with blood inventories so jeopardized, that patients needing transfusion cannot be confident that the blood is there for them,” Dr. Sayers said.
The blood shortage is a result of two challenges caused by the pandemic — closing and reopening, Dr. Sayers said.
“In the first place, the pandemic, for more than a year, imposed conditions, such as social distancing, that were inimical to blood donation,” Dr. Sayers said, adding that many businesses that typically supported blood donation campaigns at workplaces had closed. “And now, with the gradual emergence from restrictions, hospital demands for blood have increased dramatically as patients who understandably avoided hospitalization for fear of Covid are presenting for treatment.”
The Red Cross said patients who did not seek care during the height of the pandemic in the United States were showing up in hospitals with “more advanced disease progression,” which in some cases requires more blood transfusions.
In addition to patients who delayed seeking treatment for fear of the virus, another possible reason for the increased demand for blood is that as cities reopen, more people are exposed to potential dangers leaving their homes.
The Red Cross said hospitals across the country had been responding to an “atypically high” rise in trauma cases and emergency room visits. The organization said it had seen demand from hospitals with trauma centers increase by 10 percent this year, compared with 2019.
“Where there’s more people on the road, there’s probably more accidents. We did quarantine for a long time,” said Cameron Palmer, a community development coordinator with the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center in Houston. “Having more people on the road can cause more accidents, which can cause people to need more transfusions.”
The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center is still making its collection calls, but hospitals have had a greater need for blood, Mr. Palmer said.
“It’s not really a shortage. It’s more of a usage,” he said. “It’s just that our hospitals are now asking for more than expected.”