Eastern Iowa hospitals are bracing for the day their blood supply runs short as elective surgeries resume but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced blood donation drives to be canceled,
Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapid, for one, has a typical supply at the moment — but the lack of donations means the hospital must conserve blood donations whenever possible.
“On any given day we could run out,” said Mercy Medical’s Dr. Tony Myer. “We could be short tomorrow.”
The Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center started seeing blood drive cancellations in March, as schools and businesses began to close and large gatherings of people were banned.
In an emergency health proclamation, Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered elective surgeries to cease, which allowed the decreasing blood donations to balance out with less need. Demand for blood donations dropped by about 40 percent compared with normal levels, according to the center.
But now that balance is gone. Reynolds opened hospitals for elective surgeries starting April 27 — letting people receive important, but not immediately necessary, care.
Procedures such as hip replacements and coronary bypasses still greatly affect patients’ way of life and need to happen, Myer said. If the hospital is low on one blood type it could potentially schedule surgeries around the types of blood that are available, but that isn’t always possible, he pointed out.
“Blood is one of those resources that is always in limited supply,” Myer said.
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University of Iowa Health Care officials reported a 30 percent increase in demand for blood in recent weeks.
UIHC, which spent millions scaling up its coronavirus response and lost millions more by temporarily halting elective and many scheduled surgeries, now is in dire need of donated blood as it reopens operating rooms, officials said Thursday.
“This dangerously low blood supply could potentially impact individuals in need of surgery and other procedures, victims of emergencies such as car accidents, and patients with other medical conditions that require transfusions,” UIHC said in a release.
Dr. Dustin Arnold at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids said he has seen similar shortages in his 25 years in practice.
In the past, he said, the teaching was to use two units of blood when you think to use only one. That teaching has been debunked, and now hospitals feel a responsibility to preserve blood.
Particularly in the last five years, he said, St. Luke’s has made strides in conserving blood.
“Blood is a liquid organ transplant. ... You should take it serious and use it judicially,” Arnold said.
Kirby Winn, public relations manager for the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center, also said officials there have seen similar times where donations basically stopped due to bad weather — but never for as long a time. Right now the center is working with hospitals to encourage donation by offering vouchers for gift cards and double points at the center’s loyalty store to donors. Both in-center donations and blood drives are working with appointments only, screening for symptoms and exposure, and disinfecting areas consistently. Donors and staff are also required to wear face coverings.
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The UI DeGowin Blood Center is hosting a series of upcoming blood drives in response to the need — with one Friday and six more planned through July 1.
Although the UI blood center is calling for donors of all types, a message on its website notes a specific need for O-positive and O-negative whole blood donors.
The center, housed on the main UIHC campus, also is continuing to take whole blood, platelet and plasma donations — including from recovered COVID-19 patients, as providers have been offering the plasma as a treatment to hospitalized virus patients.
“We know that the donors are out there ...” Winn said, “we can get the message to those folks and everyone who might be eligible to donate to please step forward and continue to make this resource available so blood is on the shelves at hospitals and we’re not talking about any kind of restriction or delay to community care.”
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Vanessa Miller of The Gazette contributed to this report.
HOW TO HELP
Donors may schedule an appointment to give blood at a Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center donor location or mobile blood drive by calling (800) 747-5401 or visiting bloodcenterimpact.org.
Find out more about the UI DeGowin Blood Center’s drives at uihc.org/degowin-blood-center
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