Blog of Bloodworks Northwest

Our Local Blood Shortage: It's Only a Matter of Time

Jennifer Wynn

Blood centers in our region and across the country are pleading for our help. 

The critically low blood supply in the U.S. is now forcing healthcare providers into tough choices about which patients need this resource the most. The need for blood donors in the Pacific Northwest has never been greater. Your blood donation is greatly needed, and it’s needed now.

In the United States, someone receives a blood transfusion every 2 seconds

Every two seconds.

And these treatments target a variety of conditions.

Many transfusions occur during urgent, life-saving care. In over twenty years as a healthcare provider in the surgical world, I’ve witnessed many of these intense situations. They could easily have been pulled from an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or ER. In my department, it was emergency surgery to save the 10-year-old victim of a car accident. Two full surgical teams worked simultaneously to save her life. Another day, we worked to save an adult trauma patient with massive bleeding from a torn chamber of his heart. In another part of the hospital, a team of providers quickly stabilized a woman with life-threatening bleeding surrounding childbirth. Healthcare providers nationwide undoubtedly carry similar experiences.

Fast-paced emergency care requires the trained staff, the tools, and the supplies needed to save lives. And one such supply is an adequate supply of safe blood for transfusion. Patients like those above often lose blood very rapidly. Every moment counts. They need large quantities of blood products transfused quickly. Often their survival depends on it.

In addition to the type of emergency situations described above, the need for a transfusion may arise for:

  • People with acute blood loss from a major surgical procedure
  • People with excessive bleeding due to blood clotting failure 
  • People battling cancer
  • People living with blood disorders like hemophilia or sickle cell disease
  • People living with kidney or liver disease
  • Organ transplant recipients
  • Burn victims
  • Premature infants

When we need medical and surgical care, we expect our providers to have the resources they need. As providers, we’ve already spent decades learning to limit the use of transfusions. Those measures are still not enough. 

It’s only a matter of time. 

One day soon, the trauma team at our local hospital, while providing emergency care, will ask for several units of blood. They’ll learn that the hospital blood bank has no more. And that our local blood centers have run out. Bloodworks NW has recently declared a Code Red Emergency Blood Shortage. As the regional blood shortage has worsened, patients are currently using blood faster than it’s being donated.

A Code Red means we’re running out of blood fast. Our community must act quickly to stabilize the blood supply and ensure patients experiencing cancer can receive transfusions, surgeries aren’t delayed, and our trauma centers can respond to emergencies. If you’ve been putting off donating blood, now is the time to make an appointment.

Vicki Finson, Bloodworks Northwest Executive Vice President of Blood Services 

Why is the blood supply in the United States so critically low?

Blood itself has always posed basic limitations. Human blood can’t be manufactured and needs to be donated by volunteers. Blood and its components have limited shelf lives. For instance, red blood cells generally must be used within 42 days of donation. Platelets must be used within 5-7 days. And plasma can be frozen and used for up to a year.

Blood donations have steadily declined for the past two decades, and the balance between blood supply and demand has become less stable. Unfortunately, the pandemic had a swift, negative impact on blood donation and the stability of the U.S. blood supply. COVID-related shutdowns interfered with blood drives and interrupted the operation of blood donation centers.

Here’s the great news.

Our immediate action can directly improve the blood supply. As volunteer blood donors, we are the supply. And one blood donation can be used to help as many as three patients in need. 

“If just 1% more Americans donated blood, shortages would disappear.”

Let that sink in for a minute. 

Just one percent.

As a healthcare provider and a blood donor, I ask you to get involved now. Help ensure access to adequate, safe blood products for transfusion. 

Take a moment today to schedule your donation

And if you’re not personally eligible to donate blood, consider the following ways to help. Volunteer your time. Spread the word in your community regarding the current critical need for blood donations. Or consider a financial gift to Bloodworks NW. 

Consider the next time you or your loved ones need medical or surgical treatment. Do you want access to the treatments necessary for your care?

Jennifer Wynn, RN, MN, FNP-BC is a health writer and board-certified family nurse practitioner in Vancouver, Washington. 

January 27, 2023 1:03PM

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