There is No Substitute for Blood
Posted on 02/06/2024
Blog Thumbnail - There is no substitute for bloodJanuary was National Blood Donor Month, and while it is now February, it is more important than ever to donate blood!
Nationwide Blood Shortage
On January 7th, 2024, The Red Cross declared an emergency blood shortage. Dr. Pampee Young, the Chief Medical Officer of the Red Cross, said, “one of the most distressing situations for a doctor is to have a hospital full of patients and an empty refrigerator without any blood products.”

According to the Red Cross, the number of U.S. blood donors has hit an all-time low for the past 20 years. The number of people donating blood through the Red Cross over that time frame, has fallen by about 40%. While the number of blood donors has dropped, the need has not. “A person needs lifesaving blood every two seconds in our country — and its availability can be the difference between life and death, however, blood is only available thanks to the generosity of those who roll up a sleeve to donate,” said Young.

To make matters more challenging, disruptions to blood donations are often seen in the Winter months. The Red Cross experienced a nearly 7,000-unit shortfall in blood donations between Christmas and New Year’s Day alone. Winter weather and seasonal respiratory illnesses may also affect future blood donor turnout.

Red Cross Image
Impact on Local Hospitals
To hear how the blood shortage is impacting the local area, we recently talked with Diane Hamlin, MT (ASCP), the Director of Laboratory Services at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland and Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla. “It’s on our minds every day,” Hamlin said of the blood shortage.

In July 2023, Kadlec Regional Medical Center was designated a Level II Trauma Center, one of only two in eastern Washington. According to Hamlin, the advancement in trauma level designation has impacted the demand for blood at Kadlec. “We’re now Trauma Level II, which has put a bigger impact and demand on our blood bank because a lot of those traumas are coming in and they are stabilizing those here in Richland,” Hamlin explained, “and that can be more of an impact on us as we’re providing more and more blood.”

The Washington State Department of Health collaborates with the Northwest Blood Coalition, which is made up of the four blood donation centers currently serving Washington state: Vitalant, Cascade Regional Blood Centers, BloodworksNW, and the American Red Cross Northwest Region. These different blood donation centers supply blood to different parts of the state.

The Richland and Walla Walla hospitals both receive their blood supply from the American Red Cross. Hamlin explained that during a shortage, they may not always get the amount of blood products they request. Hamlin expressed the importance of teamwork in the healthcare community when it comes to blood, “we do know that they (Red Cross) have to service Trios, they have to service Lourdes, and Prosser,” adding that during blood shortages, Kadlec has had to “pull from some other hospitals, because we were in such dire need.”
Types of Blood Products
The 8 most common blood types are A+, A-, B+, B-, O+, O-, AB+, and AB-, however, some blood types are relied on more heavily in emergency situations. “O negative is crucial to have on hand because if we don’t have a patient’s blood type, that’s what we’re giving out during those life-or-death situations.” said Hamlin. In addition to whole blood, there are also other blood products that are crucial and donation-reliant, including red blood cells, plasma, and platelets. “Platelets is another product that is getting more and more difficult to get our hands on,” explained Hamlin. Platelets are often used in cancer treatments and massive transfusions, and they have very short expiration dates by the time they get to the providers, leading Kadlec to “treat them like liquid gold,” said Hamlin.

While O negative blood is extremely useful as it can be used in transfusions for any blood type, Hamlin stressed, “we need ‘em all!”, referring to the importance of donating, no matter your blood type. And if you don’t know your blood type, that’s ok, you don’t need to know your blood type before you donate blood. Donors can ask what their blood type is when they donate (just another perk of donating blood).
Save Lives

While the nation is currently experiencing an Emergency Blood Shortage, Hamlin pointed out that, “we always need the donors, because once you donate blood, it still takes awhile for that blood to be of use.” This is a key reason why it is important to routinely donate blood. However, if you haven’t donated before, now is a great opportunity to be a first-time donor and save lives.

Hamlin emphasized the impact of donating blood, “it’s a life and death situation,” and adding that “it is medically necessary to give blood.” According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, just one blood donation can save up to three lives. While you may never meet the patient who receives your donation, according to UCLA Health, below are a few examples of the types of patients who need blood from donors like you:

A cancer patient can require up to:

2 units of platelets per week

An automobile accident victim can use up to:

50 units of red blood cells

2 units of platelets

10 units of plasma

A liver transplant recipient uses on average:

25 units of red blood cells

Five units of platelets

40 units of plasma

A stem cell transplant recipient can use up to:

10 units of red blood cells

10 units of platelets with ongoing outpatient transfusion needs

A heart surgery patient uses on average:

7 units of red blood cells

2 units of platelets

4 units of plasma

How to Donate

It’s very easy! To donate blood in the local area, visit the American Red Cross website or app. There, you will find a step-by-step process of how to donate blood. This includes nearby locations to donate, the appointment process, eligibility requirements, frequently asked questions, common concerns, and more. You can also book an appointment by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

If you are unable to donate blood, consider volunteering with Red Cross Blood Services. You can find more information on volunteering here.

Thank you for helping our community and saving lives!