The Southeastern Pennsylvania Red Cross, facing a pandemic-related deficit in blood product reserves that has caused a pause in elective surgeries and other medical procedures, has joined the national organization in launching an aggressive blood donation campaign.
“Summer is always a challenging time for us in terms of blood supply, and it’s even more so this year as people are beginning travel again, schools are opening and people are vacationing,” said American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania Region CEO Guy Triano.
“In the beginning of the pandemic, we were collecting blood every single day and able to keep up with demand, because all elective surgeries have been postponed or cancelled, and we were able to keep up with it and focus on convalescent plasma to help people with COVID. Now that we are out of the pandemic and elective surgeries are restarting, we are now behind by six to 12 months.”
The agency serves approximately 4.1 million people in Bucks, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Chester and Delaware counties.
Responding to local natural disasters also has impacted its supply.
The Red Cross notes that hospitals are responding to an “atypically high number” of traumas and emergency room visits. In comparison to 2019, the Red Cross has seen red cell demand from hospitals with trauma centers climb by 10% in 2021, which is more than five times the growth of other facilities that provide transfusions.
There is a particular need for type O donors, as it is the most needed blood group by hospitals. Type O positive is the most transfused blood type and can be transfused to Rh-positive patients of any blood type, while Type O negative is the universal blood type and what emergency room personnel reach for when there is no time to determine the blood type of patients in the most serious situations.
There is also an emergency need for platelets, the clotting portion of blood, which must be transfused within five days of donation. Nearly half of all platelet donations are given to patients undergoing cancer treatments.
Additionally, 20% to 40% of trauma deaths that occur after hospital admission involve massive hemorrhaging, and in these circumstances, doctors may need hundreds of blood products, depending on the severity of the trauma, to help save a single life.
“The Red Cross is currently experiencing a severe blood shortage,” said Red Cross Biomedical Services President Chris Hrouda. “Our teams are working around the clock to meet the extraordinary blood needs of hospitals and patients (by) distributing about 75,000 more blood products than expected over the past three months to meet demand. Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood.”
Some hospitals are taking a proactive approach to heading off any potential shortage in blood products.
Lower Bucks Hospital spokeswoman Michelle Aliprantis said the network of hospitals recently conducted a “very successful” blood drive that had a target of 50 donors and ended up with 49 donations. Such efforts have helped shield the Bristol Township Hospital from blood product shortages, Aliprantis said.
The Red Cross has initiated several monthlong donation drive promotions to help restock blood products, which have a shelf life and are perishable. For example, whole blood has a shelf life of up to 35 days, red blood cells have a shelf life of 42 days, platelets have a five-day shelf life and plasma can last for up to a year.
If donors give blood, platelets or plasma through the end of the month, they will automatically be entered to win a trip for four to Cedar Point or Knott’s Berry Farm.
Each winner will receive a trip including travel, two-night accommodations at a participating hotel and two days worth of family four-pack admission tickets during the 2021 season.
The national Red Cross is also running an applicable program in which donors giving blood through the end of July will receive a $10 Amazon.com gift card by email.
Bucks County has several ongoing blood drive locations, including the Middletown Township Building in Langhorne, and the at the Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem.
Donors can check the Red Cross site for other locations and times throughout the county.
“The need for blood is constant,” Triano said. “That is why we do blood drives 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We may do a morning shift at a school and an afternoon shift at a community center. Safety is always a concern for us, and we encourage people to sign up and donate.”