Urgent need for donations at Minnesota’s blood centers

A yellow and blue bus with a Red Cross logo.
A Red Cross blood donation bus sits parked outside of the Minnesota Senate Building in 2019. Due to a variety of factors, blood centers are in urgent need of more blood donations.
Tiffany Bui | MPR News 2019

Donated blood providers in Minnesota say inventories are getting very low, and that there’s a major need for more people to donate.

The pandemic has cut into workplace and school blood drives, and a surge in travel and summer plans by people now vaccinated against COVID-19 is making it even harder to bring donors in during the usual summer slump.

Dr. Jed Gorlin is the medical director of Memorial Blood Centers and head of transfusion at Children’s Hospital and Hennepin Healthcare. He said last week that it isn’t a crisis — yet.

“Bottom line is we are stretched. Nobody is being denied a transfusion, but we have less on our inventories than we would like to see,” he said.

Memorial Blood Centers collects more than 150,000 units of red blood cells a year and distributes them across the state.

Shelly Semerad is senior director for medical laboratory services for Health Partners. She says the health system isn’t putting off elective procedures yet for lack of blood, but the stock has to be tracked very closely.

“We’re counting each day. We’re anticipating the needs of our patients,” Semerad says. “We’re looking proactively at surgeries that are on the schedule to ensure that the product is on the shelves – if and when the patient actually needs it. And then we partner closely with the Red Cross to simply understand: Where is the inventory for the day?”

Gorlin says the drop in blood supply is accompanied by a surge in demand as people head back outside, leading to an increase in injuries and trauma cases.

“The message is not, ‘Donate this week.’ The message is: ‘Continue to donate regularly throughout the summer, because summers are always a challenging time.’ We can regularly predict any Friday and Saturday nights during the summer will have an increased number of gunshot wounds, stabbings and other mayhem,” Gorlin said.

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