Sharp drop in donor turnout contributes to blood shortage emergency in the Northwest

Blood supply across the region is dangerously low. The Northwest region’s American Red Cross said it’s experiencing its lowest post-summer inventory level for the first time in six years. Officials said they must to collect 10,000 units per day through the end of October to fill the urgent need.

"In the month of August, we saw an additional 10 percent drop in donor turnout after a really slow summer," said Betsy Robertson, the Red Cross regional communications director. "In some cases, we have less than a day’s supply of the most critical blood types we need, which are Type O—positive and negative."

Robertson said a sharp drop in donor turnout is one cause to the severe shortage.

"We know people are going back to work, we know families are going back to school and we know there is still some concern about the Delta variant and the impact COVID is having on our lives," said Robertson. "We have to reinforce how essential this is. Blood cannot be manufactured, it has to be donated. And the need at hospitals is still outpacing our ability to collect blood."

Bloodworks Northwest said it is experiencing the same emergency. 

"Summer is often a challenging time because people are traveling, doing other things, enjoying the outdoors. And I think there was a lot of pent up desire to do some things people have been more restricted to do. We’ve seen a very high cancellation rate and a no-show rate. And both those things are really contributing to our lack of ability to draw enough donors," said Vicki Finson, executive vice president of blood services for Bloodworks Northwest.

The organization said it lost about 40 percent of its inventory due to about 1,500 appointment cancellations or no-shows.

"We’re really, really short right now to the point where we’re reviewing every order working with the local hospitals to use every last unit and move it around. It’s a precarious situation," said Finson.

Both organizations said there is an urgent need for all blood types…especially Type-O. Robertson and Finson said platelet donations could be critical to the survival of trauma and cancer patients.

"With a five to seven day shelf life, you can understand how we need to draw those every single day to ensure they’re where they need to be when they need to be there," said Finson.

"50 percent of the platelet donations that we take in end up being used for cancer patients. We’ve all been touched by someone with cancer. It’s quite likely that will have had a transfusion at some point, so think about them," said Robertson.

Red Cross and Bloodworks Northwest have blood drives available in communities across the region. Donors are required to make an appointment and wear a mask, per COVID-19 safety protocol. Officials said if an immediate appointment is not available, they highly encourage donors to check the following days. They are looking for as many eligible people as possible to help fill the blood donation shortage.

"The only way to have it be available for someone in an emergency situation is to have it come from a donor, most likely someone that they don’t know. But someone who has taken the time to give a bit of their life to help improve someone else’s," said Robertson.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Bloodworks Northwest says 12,000 additional blood donors needed by Labor Day

READ MORE: US blood banks hit ‘unprecedented’ critical shortage

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