State faces ‘serious’ blood shortage

Published 11:00 pm Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Written by Whitley Kilcrease

Due to severe weather in coastal regions, heat waves across the state and usual summer travel, blood banks across the southeast region are now facing “serious” blood supply shortages.

“In many of our cities, the shelves at LifeSouth are bare,” J.B. Bowles, LifeSouth Vice President of Operations, said. “We never want emergency patients to arrive at our hospitals and not have enough blood on hand. The only way to avoid that is to find more donors.”

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Melinda Hinds, district community development coordinator for LifeSouth in Montgomery, said the shortage stems from a number of factors.

“There are a mountain of things that can make something like this happen,” Hinds said. “Right now, we’re facing shortages all over Alabama, Florida and Georgia. If everybody would donate on a regular basis (every 56 days for full blood donation) we would probably never face a shortage.”

According to Hinds, LifeSouth provides 100 percent of the blood supply to area hospitals such as Southeast Alabama Medical Center, Flowers Hospital, Baptist South and East and Jackson Hospital, which is where local residents would be transferred in serious emergency situations.

“We usually have a shortage of O negative, since they are the universal donor and they can help everybody,” Hinds said. “However, we want everybody and all types to donate so we can get all levels back where they need to be.”

The American Red Cross also reported shortages in June. According to the official website, blood donations this year are down more than 10 percent across the country, approximately 50,000 units less than the blood supply this time last year. This results in fewer pints of blood than expected, which could affect the blood bank’s ability to supply hospitals and transfusion centers.

“We supply about 100 hospitals,” Jackie Buck, CEO of American Red Cross of Central Alabama, said. “We’re looking for about 600 units per day to meet our commitments to the hospitals we supply.”

According to Evan Duffy, communications manager for the American Red Cross Alabama and Central Gulf Coast Blood Services Region, the shortage is a combination of factors, such as the situations in the Midwest and Gulf region, but also because of summer vacations and school closings.

“Summer is usually a difficult period for the blood supply,” Duffy said. “About a fifth of our donations come from high schools and colleges and we don’t see the same participation in the summer as we do when school is in session.”

Duffy said regular donors vacationing during the summer months, particularly around Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day, also impact the blood supply.

“We haven’t had to ask hospitals to cancel elective surgeries at this point,” Duffy said. “However, blood supplies will continue to struggle until classes resume in September.”

LifeSouth and Red Cross have blood drives planned for Troy within the next week.

LifeSouth bloodmobiles will be at Walmart today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., as well as July 8 from noon to 4 p.m.

On July 11, Red Cross will be at Park Memorial United Methodist Church on Elba Hwy from 2 to 7 p.m.