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Red Cross blood shortage impacting Western Montana

Blood Pint Donation
Montana Blood Crisis Stats
Montana Blood Crisis Stats
Posted at 3:55 PM, Jan 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-26 15:29:23-05

MISSOULA — The American Red Cross is facing its worst blood shortage in over a decade -- so bad, they've declared their first-ever blood crisis.

The organization supplies 40% of the United States blood supply, but that supply can't always meet demand as only about 3% of eligible people donate yearly.

There are nearly 5,000 units of platelets and 6,500 units of plasma needed daily in the U.S., but donations have dropped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While this is happening across the country, Montana is taking the hit too.

“You keep your fingers crossed and you hope that there is not a major pile-up that occurs on the highway, that nothing unexpected goes wrong, that there isn't a major trauma that requires those huge amounts of blood,” said Dr. Nicole Finke.

Montana Blood Crisis Stats

Blood inventories across the nation have reached record lows and in tallying the supply in her laboratory, Dr. Finke sees empty slots where blood should be keeping cool, “and it’s a, it’s a stressful situation right now.”

The shortage stems from the pandemic – as COVID-19 ripples through schools and offices, blood drives are canceled.

When asked if he’s ever seen a shortage like this -- or a situation like this – Matt Ochsner with the Red Cross said, “no, and I've never seen the Red Cross use the term crisis before.

Red Cross
The American Red Cross is experiencing an emergency blood shortage, facing their lowest post-summer blood donor levels in six years.

Ochsner says that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, they’ve seen a 10% decrease in the number of donors walking through the door and the people that do want to donate aren’t always getting appointments.

"We are facing some of those staffing shortages, you know we're been actively recruiting phlebotomists -- the folks who help draw and collect that blood across Montana,” Ochsner told MTN News.

The state is only collecting 75% of blood necessary to meet hospital demand and the crisis is now cracking the foundation of hospitals like Community Medical Center in Missoula.

Community Medical Center.jpg
Community Medical Center in Missoula

“The Red Cross is putting everything they have on the shelves of either St Patrick Hospital, Community Medical Center, Marcus Daly -- all of the hospitals in the area,” Dr. Finke noted. “And what we have is, is what we have. So, if we run out that there is no phoning a friend, this is, this is what you have until your next delivery.”

We know there’s a shortage, but what does that mean for Montanans? For starters, one donation equals one unit of blood.

But a single car accident victim can require as many as 100 units of blood while a mother in labor who’s severely hemorrhaging could use 50 to 120 units of blood. And each year, More than 1 million people are diagnosed with cancer and during chemo, many of them will need blood daily.

Saint Patrick Hospital Winter

"At some point in your life, you or someone you love is going to need that blood,” Ochsner told MTN News.

The chances are that blood drives will be canceled, staff will call out sick. People should expect disruptions as the latest surge of COVID-19 runs its course.

But the experts and their patients are pleading.

“You know the need for blood is constant. We’ll need blood tomorrow. We’ll need blood a week from now, we’ll need blood two months from now,” Ochsner said.

Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital
Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital in Hamilton

“So, we really encourage folks to go in and try to make an appointment and if the blood drives are full, then maybe you might need to wait a week or two weeks, but that blood is still going to be just as impactful then as it is now,” Ochsner continued.

“As members of the community, as humans, this is a supply chain issue that we actually are all capable of fixing together,” Dr. Finke concluded.

Anyone who donates blood during January will be entered to win tickets to the upcoming Super Bowl. People looking to donate blood can visit https://www.redcross.org/give-blood.html for additional information.