By Shana Singh
Boston University News Service
Massachusetts General Hospital said it is addressing national blood shortages by creating a Blood Allocation Team to determine where to distribute blood if its supply becomes limited.
As reported by WGBH, physicians with experience in ethics and critical care will comprise the newly-formed team. MGH is preparing for the worst situation, despite meeting current demand.
The American Red Cross originally declared a national blood crisis in January, calling it the worst blood shortage in over a decade and a significant risk to patient care. According to the Red Cross website, some doctors must now make the difficult decision of selecting which patients receive blood transfusions and which ones must wait until more products become available.
“We’re doing everything we can to increase blood donations to ensure every patient can receive medical treatments without delay, but we cannot do it without more donors,” said Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of the Red Cross, in a press release statement. “We need the help of the American people.”
The Red Cross supplies 40% of the nation’s blood supply, according to information on their website. The most utilized blood types are O-positive, O-negative, and platelets, but all blood types are currently needed to aid the blood crisis.
Dr. Young also acknowledged the urgency of some medical conditions that require blood transfusions. Cancer patients, accident victims, and those with blood disorders like sickle cell disease depend on blood and need it more urgently than those facing elective surgeries.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, in March 2020, overall blood donations declined 10%, according to Red Cross data. Illnesses such as the flu and omicron cases, staffing issues, and weather-related closures contributed to blood drive cancellations and continue to do so.
Louisa Jenness, a student at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, has given blood several times and has even booked her next appointment. For Jenness, donating blood is personal.
“I give blood because Boston Children’s Hospital saved my life as a baby,” said Jenness. She was diagnosed with a severe case of bilateral kidney reflux as an infant and needed surgery. Jenness’ entire family was asked to donate blood in case she needed it and luckily, she didn’t.
For some, the notion of giving blood may seem daunting. But Jenness finds the process easy.
“When you get to the appointment, you fill out a questionnaire, take a finger stick blood test to make sure your iron levels are OK, and then sit in a chair for maybe 15 minutes with a needle in your arm,” said Jenness, describing the procedure. “I’m O-negative, so my blood is always in demand.”
Before the pandemic, college and high school blood drives comprised a quarter of donors. Now, they account for approximately 10%, according to data posted on the Red Cross website. Blood cannot be manufactured or stockpiled over time, so low donor turnout is particularly problematic.
“Most people don’t think about it [blood donations] until they need it themselves, or they have a personal connection to someone who needs it, which is when they realize the severity of the shortage,” said Jenness. “Ask people to tell stories about how blood donation saved their lives or the life of someone they love. You’ll probably be pretty surprised about what people say.”
To donate blood, platelets, or plasma visit: https://www.redcrossblood.org/ or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.