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Northeast Ohio Hospitals Affected By National Blood Shortage

The Red Cross and Northeast Ohio hospital officials are urging people to give blood this summer. People are still working from home and donations are down, while demand is up due to a number of factors. [Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock]
Hospital officials are urging people to give blood this summer. People are still working from home and donations are down, while demand is up due to a number of factors. [Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock]

Demand for blood is up and supply is down, causing the Northeast Ohio Red Cross and area hospitals to encourage blood donations this summer.

“It’s always a difficult time for the American Red Cross to collect blood in the summer, but this summer even more so because we’re coming out of the (COVID-19) pandemic and things are getting back to normal… and that means they’re not thinking about things like donating blood,” said Christy Peters, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross’ Northern Ohio Region.

People are also still working from home, and students are now home for summer breaks, which means fewer blood drives are happening, said Dr. Christine Schmotzer, a vice chair at University Hospitals and a board member of the local American Red Cross.

On top of that, demand for blood is increasing.

“This is associated, to a degree, with the pandemic,” she said. “A lot of individuals delayed some of their surgical procedures or treatments for potential blood disorders during the pandemic, and so now they’re all coming back into the health system to have their care done.”

There have also been more traumas that require blood products, which include red cells, platelets, and plasma, Schmotzer and Peters said. One car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood, but a person only gives one pint when donating, so supply can quickly be used.

Nationally, the American Red Cross distributed 75,000 more blood products than expected in the last three months. The organization tries to maintain a five-day supply of blood, but they are down to a half day supply of Type O blood. Other blood types are also below the five-day supply.

Schmotzer said it’s causing health care workers to pay attention to blood supply inventory and make sure they are only using blood when it’s truly needed.

“We’re starting to see that daily we have levels below what we would typically want to have to make sure we have enough to care for our patients,” Schmotzer said. “So we have started to… really look at each unit of blood that we aim to transfuse. Is it indicated that the patient really needs it in that moment? Are we using best practices to make sure we are giving blood when it’s most needed?”

Schmotzer said she doesn’t want to see anyone delay care because of the blood shortage.

Blood Donor Eligibility Requirements

In March of 2020, some U.S. Senators, including Ohio’s Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, signed a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to update blood donor eligibility requirements that restrict some gay men from giving blood. The senators called the guidelines, which require men who have sex with men (MSM) to defer giving blood for 12 months, antiquated and discriminatory.

The FDA then changed their policy in April 2020 to require MSM to defer for three months, instead of the original 12 months. FDA officials also changed the deferral policy for people with recent tattoos or piercings from 12 months to three months.

Peters said the Red Cross wants to change the policy even further, and she said the organization is committed to working with the FDA to change it.

“We recognize that the policy has hurt many in the LGBTQ+ community,” she said. “We as the American Red Cross believe that blood donations should be determined by methods that are not based on sexual orientation.”

Peters and Schmotzer hope that those eligible can donate blood this summer to prevent the blood shortage from getting even worse.

“We’re doing everything we can now to ensure that we get that blood supply back up,” Peters said. “We don’t want to be facing a severe emergency.”

lisa.ryan@ideastream.org | 216-916-6158