Blood Connection: 'Never before seen' shortage threatens crisis in WNC

·6 min read
Donors are prepared for blood donation in a Blood Connection bus at Archetype Brewing in Asheville June 15, 2021.
Donors are prepared for blood donation in a Blood Connection bus at Archetype Brewing in Asheville June 15, 2021.

Blood banks are at a critical low point across Western North Carolina, where the Blood Connection says the need is "unlike any other in TBC history."

That need has been exacerbated by the recent spike in COVID-19 cases that's led to the cancellation of blood drives, according to the nonprofit Blood Connection, and expected winter weather hitting the area over the holiday weekend could hamper efforts further.

The Blood Connection, which serves Georgia and the Carolinas, is seeing an unrelenting critical need, the organization says in an announcement, made all the worse by winter weather and the COVID-19 pandemic.

More: Buncombe County COVID-19 positivity jumps to 20%, health director: 'Limit interactions'

If the need drags on, it says, patients in local hospitals could be impacted.

The organization is echoing a national plea for blood donors, going into "crisis mode" messaging to the community where it says critically low blood supply is affecting local hospital orders.

Blood donation bags on a Blood Connection bus at Archetype June 15, 2021.
Blood donation bags on a Blood Connection bus at Archetype June 15, 2021.

"Typically we need to see 800 units a day to supply what our hospitals need," said Katie Smithson, partnerships and media coordinator with The Blood Connection. "We're projecting, if this trend continues, we'll collect 40% less than what our hospitals need."

While the omicron variant has led to a spike in cases and related blood drive closures, Smithson said she doesn't think hesitation from donors about contracting the virus is the reason for low turnout, citing an increase in 2020 during the height of the pandemic.

More: Spiking COVID-19 infections decimate Asheville City Schools staff; forces system to close

The Blood Center also hosts permanent locations at 225 Airport Road in Arden and at 825 Spartanburg Highway in Hendersonville, where she said people who may be hesitant can go to have some more space and comfort when donating compared to a blood mobile.

More donations, and more importantly more blood drives are the only ways to solve the problem, the group says, urging businesses, churches an schools to call 864-255-5003 to host a blood drive.

If a business, employer or church wants to host a blood drive, all they need to do is call The Blood Connection and supply either six to seven flat parking spaces for a blood mobile to park, or indoor space to host the drive, Smithson said.

The Blood Connection will provide the staff and supplies for the drive, and some basic marketing materials for folks to get the word out, she said, and asks only that organizations help in marketing the event to their communities.

Those blood drives can net anywhere from 20-100 units of blood in the drives, which can run two-10 hours, Smithson said, and each group will get a dedicated account manager to help set the date and time.

Low blood supply could impact WNC hospitals

The Blood Connection is the sole provider of blood for Mission Hospital, AdventHealth and Pardee Health, along with many other hospitals across Western North Carolina, it says.

At Mission, spokesperson Nancy Lindell says that the blood shortage is a nationwide issue, but at Mission Health, hospitals continue to be able to meet the demand of patients.

"However, we have less than ideal blood inventory levels," she said. "Our ability to provide life-saving blood is fully reliant on the daily response of our donor base and we encourage the public to donate to The Blood Connection."

Related: Mission health care workers demand safer working conditions, join national nurses action

Victoria Dunkle, spokesperson at AdventHealth in Hendersonville, said the hospital is feeling the effects of the shortage with winter weather on the way.

"When critical need impacts The Blood Connection, it becomes a concern for our care teams," she said. "As of today, the situation has not impacted our ability to meet the blood product needs of our patients."

AdventHealth does get all its blood and blood products from The Blood Connection, she said, and while those needs are met, it's impacting the hospital in other ways.

A Blood Connection donation van at Archetype Brewing June 15, 2021.
A Blood Connection donation van at Archetype Brewing June 15, 2021.

"For example, we placed an additional order for blood products as part of our regular preparation ahead of the winter storm expected this weekend," Dunkle said. "Typically, The Blood Connection would not have a problem fulfilling that type of order, but due to the current critical state of the blood supply that order can't be fulfilled in full at this time."

She said AdventHealth is encouraging everyone who's able to donate blood, and the hospital hosts regular blood drives alongside The Blood Connection.

The next drive is 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Jan. 26, Dunkle said, with details available at thebloodconnection.org/donate.

"TBC has experienced historically low blood donor turnout for roughly 10 months," its release says. "Coupled now with blood drive cancellations due to a spike in COVID-19 cases, and a further decline in donor turnout, TBC is now on the verge of a blood emergency."

More: 'Prepare for a storm': Meteorologists 'pretty confident' weekend winter weather coming to WNC

The goal is a five- to seven-day inventory of every blood type to ensure hospital needs are met, Smithson said, and while that level changes day-to-day, it's definitely not at the needed five- to seven-day level.

Last summer also saw a critical need, but it's even worse now, she said.

"The Blood Connection is the community blood center," Smithson said. "People may hear this on the national level, but we're dealing with this right here at home. So when your family or your fiends or the random person you pass on the street needs a unit of blood, it's because of a TBC donor they're able to get that."

All blood needed by patients must come from another human, and every hospital order has a patient attached to it, The Blood Connection says, like Chris Rains, a South Carolina resident who lost his leg in an accident on Interstate 85 and whose life was saved by several units of blood.

Carolyn Gann donates blood at Archetype Brewing June 15, 2021 in Asheville.
Carolyn Gann donates blood at Archetype Brewing June 15, 2021 in Asheville.

"You never know when it could be a family member that has a bad day driving on the highway," Rains says in the release. "There is a lot of different ways that you could come about needing blood transfusions, so just think about your family; think about you. You never know, it could be you."

Anyone interested in donating blood can make an appointment, The Blood Connection says, with multiple centers and blood mobiles open every day.

"It's 45 minutes to an hour of your time, but for somebody else, it could be a lifetime," Smithson said.

Donors are eligible to donate every 56 days, and if everyone who was eligible donated just twice a year, there would never be a blood shortage, she said.

Donors can find drives at thebloodconnection.org/donate, and as a thank you the Blood Connection is offering incentives and gift cards.

Derek Lacey covers environment, growth and development for the Asheville Citizen Times. Reach him at DLacey@gannett.com or 828-417-4842 and find him on Twitter @DerekAVL.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: 'Never before seen' blood shortage threatens crisis in WNC

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