The American Red Cross has been sending up the red flag, stressing that there is a nationwide blood shortage and Colorado is no different. In fact, along the Front Range, hospitals are managing but are one major tragedy away from danger.
Dr. Kyle Annen, director of tansfusion services and patient blood management for Children’s Hospital Colorado, said their blood supplies are not as low as those being reported by the American Red Cross and Vitalant, a national independent, nonprofit blood services provider.
“We definitely have lower supplies than normal,” Annen said. “But we are one bad emergency away from getting into some real trouble.”
Annen said CHC, which has hospitals along the Front Range and throughout the state, has been lucky to keep a flow of regular donors, but she is getting more concerned as the omicron variant of COVID continues to spread.
“It is not today or tomorrow that I worry about,” Annen said. “I worry about our supplies in the next few weeks. As omicron continues to hit us, we are going to start getting in trouble. It really is not just about today, we have to keep blood supplies stable for the future.”
Caitlin Ballenger, the American Red Cross regional communications manager for Colorado and Wyoming, said while the national organization does not directly collect blood in the state, they do provide blood to 11 hospitals in Colorado, including Denver Health, Swedish Medical Center and the University of Colorado Hospital.
In total, the American Red Cross supplies 40% of the nation’s blood, Ballenger said.
Because of the continued shortage, Ballenger said the American Red Cross has had to limit blood product distributions to hospitals. At times, as much as one-quarter of hospital blood needs are not being met, she said.
“Seasonal blood shortages are not uncommon in the U.S., however, what makes this situation unique is the many compounding factors (COVID-19, severe winter weather, supply chain and staffing challenges, and holidays) at play,” Ballenger said. “These challenges have resulted in the lowest national blood inventories in more than a decade. What is even more challenging at this time is that the blood supply levels have remained at historically low levels for now nearly four months.”
Vitalant, with nine Colorado blood donation centers, is also seeing a continued decrease in blood supplies. The national program also hosts blood drives throughout the region, including through partnerships with organizations such as the Highlands Ranch Community Association.
Brooke Way, communications manager for Vitalant, said there are several contributing factors that have led to the nationwide shortage of blood.
In 2020 and 2021, Way said Vitalant was forced to canceled 500 bloods drives due to COVID and, like other industries, staff shortages.
“We are now trying to make up for all those lost units we could have collected,” Way said.
In Colorado, Vitalant blood supplies matter because they provide units to more than 75 hospitals statewide, including Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree.
Linda Watson, the hospital’s VP of marketing and public affairs, said they work directly with Vitalant to host quarterly blood drives, including an upcoming event on Feb. 16. Watson said they are getting plenty of participation in the drives, noting that they had a full slate of donors for the Jan. 10 drive they recently held.
However, while blood drives do help replenish supplies, Annen said they do not always result in the type of blood hospitals need most. Type O blood is needed the most, she said.
In recent weeks, Ballenger said the Red Cross has had less than a one-day supply of type O blood and platelets — critical blood products for those in need. The general standard, Ballenger explained, is to have a five-day supply of all blood types on hand at all times.
“The Red Cross works with hospitals around the-clock to help meet the needs of patients, but blood product distributions to hospitals are currently outpacing the number of blood donations coming in,” Ballenger said. “More donations are needed now, especially platelet and type O, which is the most needed blood group by hospitals.”
To donate blood, Annen said residents do not have to wait for a special blood drive. Hospitals and donation centers throughout the Denver metro area can collect blood regularly throughout the year.