Blood shortage continues, as demand increases
Although Cape Cod’s two hospitals made it through June with enough blood supply, the threat of blood shortage remains, especially this summer.
Local blood shortages occur from time to time, but in mid-June, a nationwide shortage struck, chiefly caused by fallout due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, some New England hospitals postponed elective surgeries, the Associated Press reported.
The shortage resulted as public safety restrictions eased, and hospitals began tackling a backlog of surgeries that had been delayed from last year. Adding to the demand for blood products, trauma cases and other emergency room visits spiked this year, up 10 percent in comparison with 2019, before the pandemic, according to the American Red Cross.
During a typical local blood shortage, Cape Cod Healthcare can reach out to the Rhode Island Blood Center for supplies, said Lok Tse, supervisor of transfusion medicine services and the blood donor program at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis. That wasn’t the case this time, when the shortage was national.
“They’re struggling as well,” agreed Jonathan Decoste, senior blood donor recruiter for Cape Cod Healthcare Laboratory Services. “Organizations we usually reach to fill supply are also struggling.”
Type O-negative blood is in greatest demand because it can be given to people with any blood type. Tse expressed that supplies for Cape Cod and Falmouth hospitals dipped to about 50 units of O-positive and 30 of O-negative blood in mid-June. An optimal local supply of O-positive blood is more than 65 units, and for O-negative, 40 units.
In mid-June, Cape Cod Healthcare put out an emergency call for blood donations, and local people responded. Donations are needed year-round.
“Currently we have an adequate supply, but we need donors to continue to donate,” Tse urged.
Higher Demand, Lower Donations in Summer
According to Decoste, blood has a short shelf life, and it becomes difficult in the summer to get enough donors to maintain supplies. Locals may be too busy working during the tourist season, or elsewhere on vacation, and beach days draw others away.
“Trauma cases, such as car accident victims, can quickly deplete supplies,” Tse stated. There are more trauma cases in the summer as the Cape’s population increases with seasonal visitors.
“For trauma patients, blood products are provided in packs that hold four units of red blood cells, four units of plasma and one unit of platelets,” he said. Critical cases may require several packs.
“Donated whole blood units are separated into red blood cells and plasma. Refrigerated red blood cells can last 42 days. Frozen plasma remains good for a year, but once thawed, must be used within five days. Platelets, essential for clotting, are collected and stored up to seven days,” Tse said.
“The Cape’s two hospitals rarely get blood supplies from the American Red Cross, and blood donated to that organization may not stay on the Cape,” Decoste said. Residents are welcome to donate blood at Cape Cod Hospital’s Nicholas G. Xiarhos Blood Donor Center between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday to Friday. An appointment is required and can be made by calling 508-862-5663. For a complete list of blood drives near you, please visit www.capecodhealth.org/give-blood.
A blood donation only takes about 30-60 minutes and platelet donation takes about 1.5-2 hours. Donors can donate blood as often as every 56 days and platelets every two weeks.
“Every unit donated here stays on Cape Cod for families, friends and neighbors who need it ,” Decoste expressed.