Blood supplies reach ‘dangerously low levels,’ worst in over a decade

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The American Red Cross is pushing out new incentives for blood donations as the nation’s blood supply reaches "dangerously low levels."

"It’s at historically low levels, dangerous levels," said Sue Thesenga, regional communications manager for the American Red Cross Minnesota and Dakotas Region.

Thesenga called it the worst blood shortage in more than a decade.

She said their donation facilities prefer to have a three- to five-day supply of blood on hand to be shipped out to hospitals. In recent weeks, they are often down to a one-day supply or less.

That means Twin Cities hospitals are sometimes not able to secure enough blood for their standard operations, forcing them to make difficult decisions about whether certain procedures can happen.

"We know that if we use what we have and we can’t get more, that’s a critical situation," said Dr. Lauren Anthony, laboratory medical director at Allina Health. "We always have to have blood products on hand for emergencies."

In recent weeks, she said hospitals have had to consider delaying non-emergency surgeries due to lack of blood.

"It’s a day-by-day process. We’re carefully considering what surgeries we’re able to safely support," Anthony said. "It creates patient care situations we normally want to avoid."

The American Red Cross issued a joint statement with America’s Blood Centers and the Association for the Advancement of Blood & Biotherapies, which stated, in part, "If the nation’s blood supply does not stabilize soon, lifesaving blood may not be available for some patients when it is needed."

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to other hospital systems in the metro about how the blood shortage is impacting care.

M Health Fairview provided this statement from Dr. Claudia Cohn, director of the Blood Bank Laboratory at M Health Fairview University of the Minnesota Medical Center:

"Currently we have a critical level for O-, which is the universal blood type given during emergencies. This one day’s supply serves a large region (Nebraska, Kansas, New York City, MN) and one major bleed could rapidly deplete the supply leaving other patients with a very limited supply of blood."

A spokesperson for HealthPartners said, "We have asked our surgical teams to order blood products ahead of any needed care so we can appropriately plan and review. We have also asked them to consider cancelling or delaying non-urgent cases that have the ability to need or use a lot of blood. We’re always concerned when our supply is low as there is no substitute for blood."

Children’s Minnesota said its supplier recently asked hospitals to keep approximately 20% less blood on hand due to the nationwide shortage, so they also have had to be extra mindful of their usage but have yet to cancel any surgeries.

All of the hospital systems spoke about the desperate need for donors, asking Minnesotans to help save a life this winter by giving blood.

The American Red Cross is pushing out new incentives as well.

Donors will get a free long-sleeve shirt when donating now through Jan. 2.

Anyone who donates blood, platelets or plasma in January will be entered for a chance to win a getaway to the Super Bowl in Los Angeles. Those who donate in January will also be entered to win a home theater package and a $500 gift card.

"For people who are looking for a way to give back, starting the new year off on the right foot, resolve to do something good," Thesenga said. "Donating blood is an easy way to give back in a really meaningful way."

To find a blood drive or donation center near you, click here.

Thesenga urges anyone who is not eligible to donate blood to consider volunteering at a blood drive or for disaster relief efforts, which can be done by clicking here.