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Red Cross calling on Utahns to help alleviate nationwide blood shortage

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Daily Herald | Jan 28, 2022

Isaac Hale, Daily Herald file photo

Tammy Oakey applies a bandage to Russell Johnson, of Highland, as he finishes donating blood at the American Red Cross Donation Center in Orem on Thursday, May 14, 2020.

Utah, along with the rest of the nation, is experiencing the worst blood shortage in more than a decade, forcing health care workers to try other lifesaving methods before giving blood transfusions to some patients.

A press release issued by the American Red Cross of Utah and Nevada this week stated that while the public has responded to recent calls for blood, the need for more is at a crisis level. The shortage is due in part to the rise in the number of trauma cases, organ transplants and elective surgeries.

“Right now, hospitals are responding to an atypically high number of traumas and emergency room visits as well as overdoses and resulting transplants,” the statement said. “In comparison to 2019, the Red Cross has seen demand from trauma centers climb by 10% in 2021 — more than five times the growth of other facilities that provide blood transfusions.”

Heidi Ruster, CEO of the Red Cross Utah/Nevada region, said when seconds count in emergency trauma situations, it’s the blood already on the shelves that can make the difference in lifesaving care. Donors of all blood types, especially type O, and those giving platelets are being asked to give as soon as possible.

Dr. Wing Province, medical director at Intermountain Healthcare in Park City, said not only is there a shortage of blood, but there’s also a shortage of workers to process the blood.

“There are a lot of donors out there wanting to help out, but there aren’t enough workers right now to process the blood once we obtain it,” he said. “Once a person donates, the blood is filtered to make sure its free of any communicable diseases and we rely on the Red Cross and other agencies to do that.”

Province said because of the shortage, health care workers are going to cautionary measures to make sure there is enough blood available to those who are in critical need.

“In the ER, we see people come in with gastrointestinal bleeding, we see trauma victims,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons why people lose blood.”

Province said as of right now, nobody will be denied blood when they go to the hospital needing a transfusion.

“We are going to give blood to patients who are critically ill and need it. We will not withhold blood, but we are coming up with strategies to prevent a crisis of care situation where we have two patients who need it and you have to choose which one gets it. We don’t want to get to that place,” he said.

Province said one way of preserving the blood supply is to try to hold off on certain medical procedures and to also try different ways of immediately stopping bleeding if it can be done, where in the past, a transfusion was automatically given to the patient.

“All of this impacts what’s going on in the ER. It’s all tied together,” Province said. “It’s a shortage not just unique to Utah, but a shortage nationwide as well.”

To schedule an appointment, use the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

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