In many parts of the country, the national blood crisis—announced by the American Red Cross for the first time ever last month—is not easing as quickly as some had hoped.
According to the American Red Cross, it has only been able to meet 25% of hospital demand for blood nationwide due to pandemic-related blood drive cancellations, and it is forcing healthcare systems to come up with their own safety nets so patient care is not compromised.
There is no central database for blood supply levels as each hospital is responsible for maintaining its own supplies, but some hospitals have reported shortages of 50%.
Once reserves are used, it is almost impossible for a hospital to receive more blood immediately as the American Red Cross, which distributes 40% of our nation’s blood supply, only gives blood to hospitals by the day, and not by immediate need.
In some cases, hospitals have rationed blood to compensate by giving certain patients less than they would have received otherwise. In other cases, hospitals have delayed treatments so more blood is available for emergency needs.
“I can’t imagine if they said, ‘Well, you’re at 7.2, but we don’t have any blood,’” said Carol Turner, a blood cancer survivor who was diagnosed with Waldenstrom’s lymphoma in 2018 and myelodysplastic syndrome in 2020. “I cannot imagine for all those patients [who need blood].”
The 7.2 number Turner refers to is her hemoglobin levels. For women, a healthy hemoglobin level ranges from 11.6 grams per deciliter to 15 per deciliter. If Turner’s levels had fallen below 7, she would have needed a red blood cell transfusion.
“My legs ached. My back ached; I was just sick all the time,” she said. “I call it cancer sick. I don’t know how else to describe it.”
To replenish supplies, some hospitals have started relying on its own staff members to donate blood, offering time off as an incentive.
As the omicron surge eases, more blood drives are opening up again, and doctors hope it will lead more people into drives to account for shortages.