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Red Cross seeks blood donations in Boone County amid national shortage

Blood vials are placed in a yellow carrier.
National Cancer Institute
With a national blood shortage underway, local hospitals may not be able to get enough blood for patients.

American Red Cross officials are asking Boone County residents to donate blood to prevent a national shortage from affecting supplies at local hospitals.

A national blood shortage, declared by the Red Cross on Sept. 11, has swept the nation and stretched hospitals thin.

The national blood supply has dropped 25% since August as blood distributions to hospitals have surpassed the number of blood donations. The Red Cross cites an urgent need for all donor types but puts specific stress on the emergency need for platelet donors and type O blood donors.

“(Blood shortages) happen every once in a while, but it’s been very bad this year,” said Rebecca Gordon, Red Cross executive director of central and northern Missouri.

In a Sept. 26 news release, the Red Cross estimated a need for 10,000 additional blood products per week nationwide over the next month in order to return to sufficient supply levels. The Red Cross attributes the shortage to natural disasters, back-to-school activities and the busy travel season.

“The Red Cross is working with hospitals around-the-clock to meet the blood needs of patients — but can’t do it alone,” the Red Cross said in an earlier press release. “The need for blood is constant. Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood — an often-invisible emergency that the rest of the world doesn’t see.”

National blood shortages have local effects. When there isn’t enough blood to be nationally distributed, local hospitals may face delays or not be able to get the blood they need for their patients. Ben Halstead-Smyth, the Red Cross district manager for northern Missouri, assures that the Red Cross is doing everything they can to supply blood to those in dire need, but he said this appeal to the public for blood donations has been less effective than previous appeals.

“Every single person that comes through the door is saving a life at the moment,” Halstead-Smyth said. “Like I said, we’ve got hospitals that are in desperate need of this blood. I think sometimes we get a little bit lost in looking at the numbers. We hear these appeals and sometimes people don’t attribute it to actual people. When we say a hospital is requesting blood that they’re not getting, then that’s a patient that’s going without, or someone who’s waiting longer than they should for a procedure.”

Halstead-Smyth emphasized that the Red Cross wants to remain customer service-focused, aiming for short waits and sufficient staffing for first-time donors during this shortage.

Both Halstead-Smyth and Gordon anticipate that the blood shortage could grow worse in the coming months. Gordon anticipates increased need for blood as the U.S. enters hurricane season, which could continue to significantly lower supplies if donations don’t increase.

“The Red Cross is acknowledging that we are in a climate crisis,” Gordon said. “Hurricane season is really just getting going. We’re bracing. We’re worried about different natural disasters occurring in the fall, and we’re circling back into storm season. Because our supply has dropped by 25%, we’re very worried about the fact that we could really be in trouble here as we move throughout the fall months.”

Halstead-Smyth sees a potential shortage worsening for a different reason: something he refers to as “pull-aheads.” Pull-aheads are regular donors who may be scheduled to donate in later months but instead donate now to improve the shortage conditions. They then may forgo later donations because of this.

“It has an adverse effect on those later months when people would usually donate,” Halstead-Smyth said.

How to donate:

From Oct. 9-12, donors can attend the Homecoming Blood Drive from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily at the Hearnes Center Fieldhouse. This is the 37th consecutive year that the University of Missouri and the Red Cross will collaboratively host the blood drive. According to the Red Cross, the Mizzou Homecoming Blood Drive is the biggest collegiate blood drive in the U.S. The Red Cross expects 4,000 blood donations this year.

Columbia’s Red Cross blood donation center is located at 1511 S. Providence Rd. and is available for almost daily donor appointments throughout the next month. From Oct. 1-20, Red Cross donors will receive a $15 Amazon gift card by email.

Potential donors can schedule an appointment with the Red Cross one of three ways: downloading the Red Cross app, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

Upcoming blood drives in Boone County (Oct. 5-20):

Thursday, Oct. 5: Harrisburg High School (12-6 p.m.)

Friday, Oct. 20: Columbia Public Library (10 a.m.-2 p.m.); Columbia Mall (11 a.m.-3 p.m.)

The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.
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