by Jesse Mitchell, staff writer
MARCH 2022 – The American Red Cross reported January 11, 2022 that the United States is experiencing a national blood crisis, another unprecedented change caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis is being referred to by the American Red Cross as “the worst blood shortage in over a decade.” The organization described the effect of the shortage, stating, “The dangerously low blood supply levels have forced some hospitals to defer patients from major surgery, including organ transplants.”
The American Red Cross is one of the leading health organizations around the world that works to aid in humanitarian efforts in the medical field. In the U.S., the American Red Cross accounts for donating and collecting more than 40 percent of the country’s blood and blood component supply. In addition, the American Red Cross is the leading facilitating agency for blood drives in Northeast Ohio and is responsible for collecting and providing blood for many hospitals in the local area.
Christy Peters is the regional communications director for the American Red Cross Northern Ohio Region. During the month of January, the peak of the national blood crisis, there was less than a one-day supply of Type O blood, Peters said in an interview with Record-Courier, “We’d like to see a five-day supply.”
In Northeast Ohio, major hospitals affected by the national blood crisis include University Hospitals, Mercy Health, and Cleveland Clinic. The Record-Courier interviewed Dr. Christine Schmotzer,the Division Chief of Clinical Pathology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center in February of 2022.
In the published article, Schmotzer described University Hospitals’ strategy, which has been to monitor its blood supply amounts cautiously. She further added that its blood bank has been working with other divisions of the hospital, “looking for ways we can safely decrease usage so we can have enough to cover as many patients as possible.”
WKSU, a local radio station based in Kent, Ohio, conducted an interview with Dr. NurJehan Quraishy, who works in transfusion medicine at Cleveland Clinic. In regards to the blood supply at the hospital, Quraishy said, “There might be a delay, but we have managed.” There is also a new process Quriashy described as “triaging,” where the hospitals evaluate if patients can wait to receive blood until the next shipment.
The American Red Cross said that, “On certain days, some hospitals may not receive as much as one-quarter of the blood products requested.” The organization noted that this crisis has led doctors and hospital staff to make, “difficult decisions about who receives blood transfusions and who will need to wait until more products become available.”
The cause of the national blood shortage has been attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing Omicron variant. During the beginning of the pandemic, the American Red Cross noted a 10 percent decline in volunteer donations, citing low turnout of donors due to the safety risks posed by the epidemic. In Northeast Ohio, some of the added struggles have included recent winter weather and worker shortages keeping donors at home, worsening the low blood supply.
The effects of the pandemic go further than that, according to Jim McIntyre, who works for the American Red Cross Northern Ohio Region. He said, in an interview with Cleveland 19 News, that part of the reason for the sudden national blood supply crisis is because hospitals put off elective surgeries during the height of the pandemic in 2021. Now that COVID cases have started to fall, hospitals are reducing those procedures as the amount of emergency cases from the pandemic has dropped.
Through the challenges of the pandemic, the American Red Cross has remained “grateful for donors,” and understanding of donors and what is best for them. The American Red Cross encourages all Americans and Northeast Ohioans to come to their blood drives and donate if possible. McIntyre said to WKSU, “People can make appointments to donate blood. It’s the only way to mitigate the shortage.” The Red Cross plans to continue working tirelessly to ramp up Blood Drives and slowly curb the effects of this national blood crisis. Ultimately though, they “need the help of the American people.”
For those interested in donating blood or blood products, visit The American Red Cross’s website to find upcoming blood drives in the local area.
Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Mercy Health, and the American Red Cross did not respond to The Hive’s request for comment on the situation.