Blood supply hit by pandemic

  • Samantha Rodier, left, a practice manager at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, donates blood on Feb. 3 with apheresis technician Milena Fidalgo aboard the Dana-Farber/Mass General Brigham Blood Mobile, from the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center, parked at the Northampton hospital. The two-day blood drive was limited to employees of the hospital. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

For the Gazette
Published: 2/10/2022 8:40:48 PM
Modified: 2/10/2022 8:39:06 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The American Red Cross has declared a “blood crisis” in the United States, generated by a drop in donations during the pandemic.

Nia Rennix, executive director of the American Red Cross for Central-Western Massachusetts, says that this is mainly COVID-related.

“We do everything that we can; we provide the majority of the blood supply throughout the country,” Rennix said.

This has been the worst blood shortage in more than a decade and now doctors are having to make the decision on who receives blood transfusions, Rennix said.

Besides the fall-off in donations, Rennix explained that blood donor centers also have to follow protocols and maintain 6 feet of distance between blood donors in beds, leaving empty beds in between.

Additionally, supply chain disruptions have caused delays at airports, so necessary supplies arrive late, affecting local hospitals such as Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

Catherine Reed, administrative director of clinical services at Cooley Dickinson, said also that “because of the pandemic,” the ability to collect blood has been affected. There are many vacant positions throughout the health care industry and “these donor centers have really struggled with staffing,” Reed said.

“Most health care systems rely pretty heavily on the American Red Cross as their donor supplier or their blood supplier and the Red Cross has been under some pretty tight constraints,” Reed added.

The majority of patients who get blood transfusions at Cooley Dickinson are cancer patients, but other patients who have undergone surgery or other illnesses also need transfusions.

Cooley Dickinson partnered with the bloodmobile at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston and was able to get it sent to the hospital on Feb. 3. Richard Kaufman, the medical director of Brigham & Women’s Hospital adult transfusion services, said Brigham buys most of its blood from Red Cross.

Before, if there was an emergency, Kaufman said, “We used to be able to just call Red Cross.” Now, with the pandemic, things have changed.

“With Red Cross not providing blood like they used to, it means that Brigham and Mass General have the biggest supply of blood,” Kaufman said.

“Now that we’re in a system with Mass General and several other hospitals, we thought it would make sense to use their ability to collect blood and combine them with the pool of donors to benefit all of their patients,” Kaufman added. He said he hopes to expand this program so other hospitals can get the blood supply they need.

The blood during this blood donation was split between Cooley Dickinson and Brigham & Women’s, with one-third of the blood supply going to Cooley and two-thirds going to Brigham, Kaufman said.

Cooley needs less blood than Brigham and the split will put Cooley in “good shape,” for a while without wasting any blood, because red cells are only good for 42 days after refrigeration, Kaufman said.

Reed said she does not believe that there is a need to “entice” people to donate blood, but it would help to have more facilities where people can donate.

“One of the challenging parts of the area here is the closest donor center is in Springfield at the American Red Cross, so it becomes a bit of a challenge for people to be able to get there during the hours they’re operating,” Reed said.

Rennix said that the donation process “is easy” and takes about an hour from start to finish.

Rennix added, “If our donors gave regularly, we might have a fighting chance.” Donors can donate every 56 days.

During the Feb. 3 blood drive, only employees of Cooley Dickinson were able to donate blood, but Reed said there is a “moving target” to bring back the bloodmobile to the community in late spring. As of now, there is no specific date on when the bloodmobile will be available for the general public.

For now, eligible donors are able to donate to the American Red Cross by either signing up online or calling the American Red Cross Center in Springfield at: 1-800- RED CROSS.

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