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Local health care systems say the blood shortage hasn’t impacted services... yet. 

Though a nationwide blood shortage hasn’t yet curtailed local medical procedures, a dearth of units threatens the ability of hospitals to treat patients, even as shootings and other traumas typically rise during the summer.

Providers blame the COVID-19 pandemic for the shortage as numerous blood drives were canceled, most notably those hosted by businesses forced to shut down.

“Every day, Vitalant needs to collect about 5,300 blood, platelet and plasma donations to help save lives across the nation,” Brooke Way, communications manager with the nonprofit, says via email. Vitalant is the nation’s largest independent, nonprofit blood services provider and comprises a network of about 120 donation centers across the United States, including one in Colorado Springs.

“Vitalant has less than a needed four-day supply of most blood types to meet patient needs at a moment’s notice,” she adds.

Despite the shortage, Paula Freund, UCHealth’s public relations manager, says no surgeries or procedures have been canceled or postponed, and the national shortage has not impacted UCHealth patients.

But Freund says UCHealth, which operates the city’s Memorial Hospital system, is “watching developments closely” and its Garth Englund Blood Centers in northern Colorado have ramped up blood drives to encourage donations.

Centura Health, which runs Penrose Hospital and St. Francis Medical Center, described its supplies as “healthy.”

The Red Cross reported on June 14 that the nation’s supply has been depleted in recent months by organ transplants, elective surgeries that were postponed during the pandemic, and increasing numbers of trauma cases, such as shootings and vehicle crashes.

Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood, Chris Hrouda, president of Red Cross Biomedical Services, said in a statement, calling the shortage “severe.”

“Our teams are working around the clock to meet the extraordinary blood needs of hospitals and patients — distributing about 75,000 more blood products than expected over the past three months to meet demand — but we can’t do it without donors,” Hrouda said.

With hospitals responding to “an atypically high number of traumas and emergency room visits, the Red Cross has seen red cell demand from hospitals climb by 10 percent in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic year 2019, he said.

“Twenty to 40 percent of trauma deaths that occur after hospital admission involve massive hemorrhaging,” Hrouda said. “In these dire circumstances, doctors may need hundreds of blood products, depending on the severity of the trauma, to help save a life.”

Moreover, as people who previously deferred care during the pandemic now seek care, they may present with more advanced diseases, requiring more blood transfusions, compounding the shortage.

Way, with Vitalant, said on June 22 that while the agency had less than a four-day supply of most blood types, it had only a two-day supply of Type O.

“Type O is often used in trauma situations, especially type O negative, because it can be transfused to patients with any blood type in an emergency room setting,” she said. “We never want to see the blood supply get so low that doctors have to postpone any procedures, and that’s why it’s so important for enough people to donate to get us back to a four-day supply.”

It takes up to two days to process, test and distribute blood to patients after it’s donated.

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It takes up to two days to process, test and distribute blood after it’s donated.

Blood donations in May fell 4,000 units short of the need, just as summer was about to begin, a time of year when donors give several thousand fewer donations each month compared to other times of year, Way said.

Blood agencies already are short of blood, and school-hosted blood drives are largely not held in the summer when school isn’t in session. Business-hosted drives, too, have been canceled and may not be resurrected for awhile, because many businesses continue to work remotely, or otherwise limit blood drive opportunities, Way said.

In fact, she added, “Anticipated uncollected donations from business-hosted blood drive cancellations reached a four-month high of more than 6,200 blood donations across the U.S. in June.”

Vitalant and the Red Cross urge Americans to give blood. Vitalant, which supplies donated blood to more than 900 hospitals in the U.S., of which 75 are located in Colorado, is trying to reschedule blood drives that were canceled in 2020 amid the pandemic.

Give blood at Vitalant’s donation center at 3670 Austin Bluffs Pkwy., which is open seven days a week, or at a blood drive event listed here.

Senior Reporter

Pam Zubeck is a graduate from Emporia State University. She worked at the Tulsa Tribune before coming to Colorado Springs, where she spent 16 years at the Gazette and in 2009 joined Colorado Publishing House.