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Pennsylvania Blood Banks Concerned By Shrinking Supplies, Asking Donors To Step Forward

Virus Outbreak Arizona
Ross D. Franklin
People donate blood during a Red Cross and Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team blood drive at Chase Field Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Phoenix. According to the Red Cross, as of April 5, nearly 14,000 Red Cross blood drives have been canceled across the country due to coronavirus concerns, resulting in more than 400,000 fewer blood donations.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The impacts of the nation’s dwindling blood supply are being felt in parts of Pennsylvania. The low reserve is related to the effects of the pandemic: People are giving less blood than they were prior to COVID-19, while simultaneously, surgeries postponed last year are now being scheduled.

Dr. Russell Dumire, the trauma medical director at Conemaugh Memorial Hospital in Johnstown, said while his staff are being more careful in how they ration their blood supply, there is enough to meet current needs.

“But if we were to get a multiple casualty incident that involved an entire region, for instance a Flight 93, with 150 survivors on it, that would be an issue,” said Dumire.

Conemaugh, which is the only level-one trauma center between Pittsburgh and Hershey, gets its blood from the American Red Cross, which has been outspoken about the need for donors.

"We are all one cancer diagnosis or one car accident away from needing blood," said Lisa Landis, spokesperson for the American Red Cross Greater Pennsylvania Region.

Most of southwestern Pennsylvania's facilities are supplied by Vitalant, formally the Central Blood Bank, which is also seeking more donations.

“[Blood] comes right in from the donor…and it goes right to the hospitals,” said Vitalant’s Kristin Lane. “It doesn’t even have time to sit around on shelves.”

Lane noted there is currently just a two-day supply of Type O blood, which is consistently in highest demand. Vitalant usually maintains a four-day reserve.

Allegheny Health Network, St. Clair Health, UPMC and Washington Health System, which are all supplied by Vitalant, report there has been little to no impact on their delivery of care.

Lane warned that might change, especially if current trends continue. She noted that in the past, if local reserves were too low, Vitalant could access its national network. But because blood supplies across the county are also low, that may soon not be an option.

She's also concerned that the upcoming holiday weekend may drain supplies further. Increased alcohol use, recreational boating, and fireworks up the risk of life-threatening injuries that require blood transfusions.

“The Fourth of July holiday is always a time when the need for blood rises,” said Lane. “Especially this year when a lot of people are going to be traveling for the first time since the pandemic.”

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.
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