Blood drives hoped to boost supply
It’s the time of year when temperatures run high and blood runs low.
The summer, with school out of session and people vacationing, creates a slump in blood donations, and the American Red Cross and Memorial Health System both have issued a plea for people to come out and donate at several blood drives in the Marietta-Parkersburg area this month.
“This is one of the bigger dips I’ve seen in some time,” said Brian Adams, donor recruitment director for the Red Cross in Parkersburg, the office that covers the Marietta-Parkersburg area.
“This time of the year is always a struggle,” he said. “Schools are an important source for blood drives and normally gets us anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of our donations. It’s hard to replace those drives.”
There are blood drives scheduled this month in Ravenswood, Parkersburg, Elizabeth and Mineral Wells in West Virginia and in Little Hocking. As a small extra inducement, donors are being offered a $5 Amazon gift card.
Although some people are ineligible for donating blood, Adams said, about 40 percent of people can do so, even those with conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
“If the blood pressure or blood sugar is well-controlled on that day, they can donate,” he said. Some medications, such as blood thinners and antibiotics, will exclude people from being donors.
The Parkersburg district, which includes Marietta, needs about 2,500 units of blood a month, he said, which means an average collection of 100 to 120 units a day based on a five-day week.
“We like to have a five-day supply,” he said, which means it gets worrisome when supplies in the district drop below 500 units.
The supply chain for blood – getting it from the donor to the patient – is complex and needs to move with speed and efficiency. Adams said that after blood is collected in this district, it is shipped to a center in Pennsylvania, where it is screened for safety and processed into a variety of products, ranging from whole blood to platelets or plasma. The blood is then sent to hospitals, clinics and other health operations for use.
The process takes 48 to 72 hours, he said, so blood isn’t available for use for two to three days after it’s donated.
Some of the usual blood products are whole blood, which is blood with all its components; packed red blood cells, a concentrate of red cells; platelets, the cells that assist with clotting; and plasma, the liquid part of blood.
The shelf life of blood is limited, depending on the product, Adams said – whole blood is good for up to 42 days, platelets have to be used within three days and plasma can be frozen for a year but has to be used pretty quickly after it’s thawed.
The history of blood transfusion as a life-saving measure goes back centuries. Blood typing was discovered in early 1900s, and the discovery that sodium citrate would preserve blood outside the body made blood banking possible. The Red Cross established large-scale civilian blood donations in 1941 to respond to battlefield needs of World War II.
Adams, who has been in the blood donation field for 14 years, said he has seen some of the demand taper off in the past several years as less invasive techniques for surgery have developed, but the gains in efficiency have plateaued and the demand has become steady.
At Marietta Memorial Hospital, the blood bank is staffed around the clock, seven days a week. Shelly Baylor is the supervisor, and she says the hospital infuses 400 to 500 units a month. She said the operating rooms typically aren’t the biggest users of blood, with more going as therapeutic transfusions to patients on the nursing floors and at the Strecker Cancer Center. Blood is, of course, also used for trauma patients in the emergency room.
The hospital, which Baylor said gets 100 percent of its blood from the American Red Cross, also depends on local donors to keep supplies at a comfortable level. Blood donated locally generally is used in area where it’s donated.
“Being able to keep the inventory at the right level depends on the success of blood drives,” Baylor said. “We use historic data to determine the amount we need, and we can hit a critical level.”
Public awareness of the need is a big part of keeping the supply at adequate levels.
“This country is great about pitching in after a devastating event, like 9-11 or a disaster, but there are times of the year when it gets really lean. Summer time and the flu season, when people don’t go out, are really rough on us,” she said.
Although the blood is donated, there is a charge to the health organizations that use it and in turn the patients who receive it.
Adams said the Red Cross charges hospitals to recover the expense of collecting it. Blood drives need to be staffed by qualified people to draw blood, and there are shipping costs and the expense of screening the blood and processing it into various blood products. The hospitals charge patients according to agreements they have with various insurance organizations, but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services set benchmarks for their patients. The 2018 CMS proposed rates ranged from $72 a unit for frozen plasma to $628 per unit for specially treated platelets. Whole blood was set at $120 per unit, down significantly from two years ago, when it was priced at $221 per unit.
Demand for blood types vary, but the gold standard for donors are those with O-negative blood, which can be used to transfuse patients of any blood type. They account for about 7 percent of the population, Adams said.
Linda Miller organizes six blood drives a year. A retired nurse with 47 years experience and a resident of Lowell, she was a regular blood donor during her medical career.
“The hospital used to collect blood, but they quit doing that and I had to drive all over the place to find somewhere to donate blood,” she said. At one blood drive in Williamstown, she got information on organizing her own drive.
“I had to guarantee I could get 25 donors,” she said. “I had to ask around for people to come and started the drive. I set up six a year, and at the last one they collected 63 units. I’ve got a lot of faithful donors who like to come to Lowell. It’s easy to get to, and they want to help somebody.”
Miller said she’s never needed a transfusion but as a nurse she has seen the need.
“You never know when a friend or member of your family might be the one who needs it,” she said. “Once in a while, I get a note from the Red Cross saying, ‘Your blood was used at this hospital,’ and it gives the name of the hospital. It’s just a good feeling knowing maybe I’m helping somebody.”
Her donors, she said, tell her they come for the food – a snack and beverages are always provided at blood drives.
“My cheeseburger soup is really popular, but maybe I’ll try something besides soup for the summer weather,” she said.
Miller’s next blood drive will be from 1 to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Lowell fire department.