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In this article:
One in six Americans will need a blood transfusion in their lifetimes.
A perfect storm created the current national blood shortage: fewer donors, fewer employees and increased demand.
Type O blood and platelets are desperately needed in our region.
Sign up to donate today (and bring a friend) and save a life.
Hospitals across the country – including in the Puget Sound region – are facing critical blood shortages. That means there may not be enough blood products for the people who desperately need them, like those fighting cancer; organ transplant recipients; patients recovering from a traumatic injury; or those experiencing bleeding issues during birth.
“Blood products, like whole blood and platelets, are the foundation of Western medicine,” explains Curt Bailey, MBA, president, and CEO of Bloodworks Northwest. “One in six Americans will receive a blood transfusion at some point in their lives. That could be you or someone you know. Donating blood means that the people who desperately need it will have access to it – and a better chance at survival.”
Bloodworks Northwest provides blood supply to 95% of hospitals in the Pacific Northwest – including Swedish. We have proudly partnered with them to ensure our patients receive the care they need. Recently, we spoke with Curt about the current blood shortage, what it means for care and why donating blood is so important.
Read on to see what he shared during our conversation.
Understanding the current blood shortage
Typically, blood banks aim to have five to seven days’ worth of blood products to supply a region’s hospital. That helps cover the typical need of the community, as well as account for any unusual days when demand may be higher.
Unfortunately, what’s on the shelf at blood banks now is far less than the ideal stock. Some blood banks across the country have only one to three days of supply.
Curt points to a “perfect storm” of three factors creating this critical shortage of blood – fewer blood donors, fewer employees to collect blood, and higher demand for blood.
Fewer donors because of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic and physical distancing requirements have made it difficult for blood banks like Bloodworks Northwest to schedule community blood drives that are critical for maintaining blood supply.
“Community blood drives are one of the best ways to recruit first-time donors and turn them into lifelong donors,” explains Curt.
Even when cases dip in the community and things begin to reopen, it’s difficult to visit businesses because many employees are still working from home. It’s also tough to maintain 6 feet of physical distance on a blood bus. Still, first-time donors and repeat donors are needed to help close the gap between supply and demand.
Fewer employees are available to collect blood
Many of us know that COVID-19 has impacted just about every area of life – from what we find on store shelves to the number of employees available to work. Industries across the board have felt the sting of “The Great Resignation” as a record number of people have left their jobs in 2021. At blood banks, that has left fewer employees available to collect blood, which leads to fewer opportunities to connect with willing donors.
Blood product shortages in the Puget Sound region
It’s important to keep in mind that there are several different types of blood products that can be donated. The four most common include:
- Whole blood. The most common type of blood donation, whole blood simply refers to the blood that flows through your veins. It may be given to anyone who has lost significant blood, including during surgery or after a trauma.
- Red blood cells. When separated from whole blood, red blood cells (RBCs) can be used to help treat anemia.
- Platelets. Collected during a special process that uses an apheresis machine or separated from a whole blood donation, platelets are often given to cancer patients or individuals undergoing organ transplant surgery.
- Plasma. The liquid portion of your blood, plasma helps maintain blood pressure, supports immunity, encourages clotting, and carries electrolytes to muscles. It is collected during whole blood donation and then separated from the cells and platelets in the blood.
Curt points out two specific shortages in the region – type O whole blood and platelets. These two blood products are critical in caring for patients in many situations, including those experiencing traumatic injury or those recovering from cancer.
“Type O blood is always hard to keep in stock because it can be transfused into most patients,” he explains. “That’s really important if there isn’t a perfect match or you don’t have time to get a blood type on the recipient.”
Platelets are also hard to keep in stock because of their short shelf life. “Platelets are only good for 5 to 7 days after donation. Whole blood, in comparison, lasts for about 45 days. It’s important to make sure we always have enough platelets available since they don’t ‘keep’ for as long.”
Curt encourages type O donors to make an appointment and for other donors to consider donating platelets to keep our region’s blood supply healthy.
Eligibility for donating blood
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has revised its guidance on who can give blood and when. These new guidelines have opened the door for individuals who previously thought they were not eligible to donate blood.
“Don’t assume you are not eligible to donate blood,” Curt encourages. “Far more people assume they can’t donate blood but actually can. Call us or go ahead and schedule your appointment. We’ll walk you through the updated eligibility and figure out if and when it’s safe for you to donate blood.”
Stay up to date with the latest eligibility requirements for blood donation.
How you can help
- Sign up to donate blood.
- Keep your appointment.
- Bring a friend.
- Commit to giving blood four times a year (with each season).
“Saving a life is a beautiful thing,” Curt states. “Donating blood is a simple way to make a difference in someone’s life.”
Find a doctor
Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult with a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a physician, caregiver, or advanced care practitioner, you can use our provider directory.
Find out the latest updates on how we’re handling COVID-19.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.