As the American Red Cross faces an increasingly dire blood shortage this summer, the culprits are surprisingly banal: a long weekend, balmy weather, college students on holiday. But the causes belie a looming emergency that may leave hospitals scrambling, Red Cross officials said.
July is historically a sluggish period for donations, Red Cross spokespeople told The Daily Beast, but this year’s paucity has led to a significant—and potentially dangerous—decrease in the blood supply.
“We’re down about 8 percent in donations just over the last 11 weeks,” said Kara Lusk Dudley, a national spokeswoman at Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C. “That’s resulted in 80,000 fewer donations than we expected.”
And while there now are blood reserves lining hospital shelves, Dudley said the nonprofit is hastily approaching a crisis. “If we continue on the route we’re on, we would be in an emergency situation in the coming weeks.”
“We haven’t reached a point so far where hospitals have to cancel surgeries, but certainly we could get to that point,” Dudley added.
Dudley said the shortage isn’t linked to spoiled supplies or lagging publicity, but rather a few chance circumstances stacking up. This summer, July 4 fell on a Friday, making for a long weekend that invited travel—and promptly shuttered a slate of blood drives that week.
“On average during the summer, we would have about 4,400 blood drives [per week]—and on this Independence Day week, we had 3,450 drives,” Dudley said, noting the extended weekend drove regular donors to beaches and lakefronts rather than donation centers.
Students on summer break worsen the deficit, too. “College and high school blood drives account for as much as 20 percent of blood drives during the school year,” Dudley explained. “Donations that we usually get from those drives drop by 80 percent when school is out.”
If donations fail to surge in late July, it will be local hospitals that feel the strain swiftly and deeply in August. The Red Cross serves approximately 2,700 hospitals and transfusion centers across the nation, Dudley said, and accounts for about 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply.
Dependent on Red Cross blood are trauma victims rushed to the ER, Dudley explained, but also a roster of patients who require regular blood transfusions. This summer’s deficiency could be troubling for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, or individuals being treated for sickle cell anemia.
This week, the Red Cross released a public plea—coupled with a social media push—in the hopes of boosting donations quickly. In their entreaty, officials call for blood types O negative, B negative and A negative and stress a dire need for platelets to aid burn victims, cancer patients, and bone marrow recipients.
In the Northeast, local Red Cross chapters are hustling to amplify donations, according to Anthony Tornetta, a Red Cross spokesman representing New Jersey and Pennsylvania. “We’re urgently asking donors to come out now so we don’t have an emergency situation later on down the road,” Tornetta said. “And we don’t use the word ‘urgently’ carelessly.”
Tornetta’s region services about 100 area hospitals that depend on Red Cross donations. To achieve stability in the area, Tornetta noted his chapter hopes to bring in between 800 and 1,000 units per day. “We’d like to get in that range and stay safely in that range,” he said.
For individuals keen to contribute, Dudley recommends visiting the Red Cross’ dedicated blood drive page at RedCrossBlood.org. “Type in your ZIP code and blood drives close to you will come up,” Dudley said.
“We’re hoping that in the next few weeks, we’ll start to see a surge following this outreach,” Dudley added. “[Hopefully] it will make a big difference and help us.”