Amid nationwide blood shortage, area hospitals face reduced supply

The Central Pa. blood bank has less than half the blood it had on hand prior to the pandemic

  • Brett Sholtis

(Harrisburg) — With a severe shortage of blood nationwide, midstate hospitals are left with a reduced supply for medical procedures.

The shortage is the result of both an increase in demand and a decrease in donations, said Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank spokesman Jay Wimer.

As offices closed last year due to COVID-19, it became impossible to schedule corporate blood drives, Wimer said. With many people still working from home, and many businesses only recently reopening offices, those drives haven’t started back up.

Blood drives on college campuses were similarly affected, Wimer said. Colleges and area businesses were some of the blood bank’s most reliable sources of donations.

Meanwhile, demand is up, Wimer said. More people are getting the surgical procedures they put off last year. And as more people go outside for the summer — and some of them injure themselves — that drives up need as well.

The result is that the blood bank’s usual reserve — about 900 units of type O negative — has dropped to around 400 units. “I’ve been here for 19 years…and I’ve never seen inventories that low,” Wimer said.

That shortage means hospitals get less blood as well. Wimer said the blood bank is giving hospitals 80% of the amount of blood it would have given them prior to the pandemic.

“We move blood between hospitals based on need, and when we’re in a shortage situation like this, we need to be as nimble and as quick as possible,” Wimer said.

WellSpan Health Blood Donor Services director Dr. Michelle Erickson urged people to serve their communities by donating at one of its locations in York or Lebanon.

“Blood is essential to our patients, helping them to survive surgery, recover from a traumatic injury, undergo cancer treatment, and live with a chronic illness,” Erickson said. “In fact, one out of 10 people entering a hospital will need blood.”

At Geisinger Health, transfusion services director Dr. Gustaaf de Ridder said giving blood is a direct way to save someone’s life.

“There are a lot of people who will get through whatever it is they’re going through if there’s blood to give them, but if there isn’t, many of them will die,” de Ridder said. “Everybody needs to work together in the whole community within the hospital and outside the hospital. The blood you donate could save your neighbor or your mother, it’s going to save someone. Blood donation is helping people in general and that is a noble act.”

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