During the summer months, blood banks across the country tend to run short on supplies, officials said, making the need for O-type blood that much more critical.
Those with Type O blood are known as universal donors because O is the type of blood emergency room personnel reach for in the most serious cases when there isn’t time to determine a patient’s blood type.
“The summer months are always a great time for area residents to consider donating blood,” said Josh Krysak, chairman of the Fayette County Red Cross Leadership Committee and director on the Red Cross Chestnut Ridge Chapter Board. “Larger city hospitals can experience some lower blood supplies during the summer and any donation can help to alleviate that. I encourage anyone that is able to donate. It is a great way to make a healthy difference for others.”
According to officials from the Red Cross, there are six units of Type O blood available for every 100,000 people, but at least two times that amount is needed every day.
However, the shortages aren’t because hospitals are using more blood.
Charlie Wilcox, Northeast Region president of Vitalant, formerly known as the Central Blood Bank, said there are fewer donors in the summer months because people are busy going on vacations and spending time out in the nice weather.
Another major contributor to the lower supply is schools are out of session for summer vacation.
“During the fall and winter, colleges and high schools host a lot of blood drives. Those donations are lost during the summertime,” said Regina Bratton, spokesperson and external communications manager for the Red Cross.
Bratton said the American Red Cross focuses on keeping the donations flowing in because it is a time sensitive issue.
“Blood doesn’t last forever,” she said. “It has an expiration date.”
Plasma and platelets last up to five days, whole blood 40 to 45 days. However, no blood is ever wasted, according to Bratton. Blood is distributed locally and statewide when there is a need. Neighboring states may also be tapped when an extreme need is identified.
“There’s been a huge shortfall and we’ve been playing catch-up since 2017 when severe storms (like the hurricane in Puerto Rico) and mass shootings really taxed the blood supply,” said Bratton.
Over the last several years, Wilcox said Vitalant’s donor database has been shrinking thanks to the aging population of Baby Boomers whose health issues often keep them from donating. Local blood donations across the region have dropped by half over the past few years, Wilcox said.
However, it’s not just a regional or local issue.
“It’s literally a problem affecting the country, coast to coast, and even worldwide,” said Wilcox.
Recently, Vitalant has kicked off a campaign to educate the community to combat the blood donation shortfall.
“We’ve got to do something about it now,” said Wilcox.
Vitalant is asking organizations of all kinds to commit to regular blood drives at their places of business, and schedule bloodmobile stops at offices, churches and civic club meetings. Vitalant’s bloodmobiles stop at 20 locations per day.
According to Wilcox, a study revealed that number one reason people don’t give blood is because they were never asked.
“We are trying our (best) to make sure everyone is asked,” said Wilcox.
Another big need, according to Bratton, is volunteers.
“We need people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and help out,” said Bratton. “Volunteers are extremely important to the Red Cross.”
In fact, the organization is 95% volunteer driven and that includes blood drives and national disaster response. Some of the volunteer opportunities are things like blood drive ambassadors, volunteers to make calls to donors, blood drive helpers, blood drive hosts, and comforters in times of disasters.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” added Bratton.
One of the best ways for donors to keep connected with the Red Cross is through the organization’s mobile app, called Blood Donor, Bratton said. It makes it easy for donors to track their donations and schedule appointments for new ones, along with several other features. The app is free to download on iPhone and Android.