Critical Blood Shortage Raises Concern

Red Cross officials calling on people to donate blood to alleviate shortage

By Matthew Liptak

The American Red Cross has run into its seasonal blood shortage, but this year the lack of enough blood supply is worse than usual. May and June led to real drops in donation.

“To give you a comparison, last year when we were facing a shortage we were down about 39,000 units [nationally],” said Patty Corvaia, communications manager for the American Red Cross. “This year we’re down 61,000. That’s pretty significant.”

Corvaia explained that during the summer months, there are fewer community blood drives by businesses and churches because people are on vacation. “On top of that, more than 20 percent of our donations come from high school and college students, and with school being out, we aren’t able to have blood drives there. This season is always a tough time for us, but this year it is even worse.”

The Red Cross has issued a blood emergency.

“People just need to come out, roll up their sleeve, and give an hour of their time and donate blood,” said Syracuse chapter donor specialist Katie Stepanian. “We’re facing a critical blood shortage. What we do know is that blood donations are being distributed to hospitals faster than they are coming in.”

The American Red Cross is the primary supplier for blood to all Syracuse-area hospitals, Corvaia said. According to the organization’s statistics, one person in three will require a blood transfusion in their lifetime.

The Red Cross serves about 90 hospitals in New York state alone and requires about 1,000 donations a day to keep up with their demand, Corvaia said.

The blood goes to a variety of patients, many in critical condition or battling dangerous diseases.

“These patients are very ill,” she said. “One car accident patient may need up to 100 blood transfusions. That’s a lot. We’ve had situations where [there are] pediatric patients as well. A lot of people don’t think that: babies, toddlers, children who are either facing childhood cancer or are born with a heart defect — blood has to be there. The key is the blood has to be at the hospital when the patient needs it. It’s so important that it’s there.”

Giving whole blood takes about an hour all together. One donation can save up to three lives, according to the Red Cross. The donor comes in, goes through the entry process, donates (which takes about fifteen minutes), and then there is a rest period.

Donors can also give platelets (used often for cancer patients), plasma, and double red cell donation.

The organization is working hard to get out the word that the need is extra strong this summer.

“We have our schedule set with sponsors,” Stepanian said. “Now it’s a matter of getting donors to come out and give this summer. We are encouraging our donors to give. They’re having a special promotion right now. There’s a Target e-card for donors that give between July 26 and Aug. 31. Anyone who comes to donate will receive a $5 Target gift card via email. That’s an incentive through our partnership we have with Target.”

The Syracuse community, and the nation at large, has a real need for blood right now. As the blood can’t be made artificially, donors are the only possible source for people who need it.

The organization encourages anyone able to call 1-800-RED-CROSS to set up a time to donate. Or go to RedCrossBlood.org and enter your zip code to find a drive near you. Walk-ins are always welcome too.

The Red Cross is also encouraging anyone who might be interested in starting their own drive to get in touch with them.

“If you’re a business, a community leader or a individual and you’d like to sponsor a blood drive reach out to us at 1-800-RED-CROSS,” Stepanian said.

The organization also wanted donors to know how greatly their donation is appreciated.

“We are so grateful for our donors,” Stepanian said. “We know everyone is very busy and summer is a challenging time. But we urge possibly even new donors to role up a sleeve. If you’re not sure a blood donation is for you, go online and you can read a little bit more about eligibility. We always need new donors.”

How to Help

To schedule an appointment to donate, use the free Blood Donor App, visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). The Red Cross has added more than 25,000 additional appointment slots at donation centers and community blood drives across the country over the next few weeks to accommodate more donors. Donation appointments and completion of a RapidPass online health history questionnaire are encouraged to help reduce the time it takes to donate.