Red Cross asks for help again after winter blood drive cancellations worsen ‘critical supply deficit’

Feb 3, 2024, 8:57 PM

Dennis Druce is assisted in his blood donation by technician Shea Proctor at the American Red Cross...

Dennis Druce is assisted in his blood donation by technician Shea Proctor at the American Red Cross Murray location on Jan. 8. The Red Cross says there continues to be a critical need for blood donations. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

(Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Winter storms across the United States in January have exacerbated an “already critical supply deficit” of blood donations, according to the American Red Cross.

The organization released a statement saying 543 scheduled blood drives were canceled across the country due to the recent bad weather, more than the total cancellations for all of last year.

Benjamin Donner, executive director over central and southern Utah, said the Red Cross manages “upwards of 40% of the entire nation’s need for blood,” and an even greater percentage in Utah. But while the need remains constant, Donner said there are 40% fewer blood donors than 20 years ago.

The shortage affects health care providers’ ability to treat a wide variety of patients, according to Dr. Walter Kelley, medical director of the region. “When you have all of those donors across the U.S. who haven’t donated, sometimes finding very specific units of blood can be exquisitely challenging.” He said patients who require regular, large-volume transfusions grow more sensitive to blood that doesn’t perfectly match their own. Recently, according to Kelley, a Utah patient living with sickle cell disease had to fly blood in from two different states because there were no donor matches in the area.

Kelley has worked with the Red Cross to remove barriers and allow more people to donate blood that previously could not. “We have quite a lot of veterans here in Utah,” he said. “In fact, the local Red Cross CEO herself is a veteran, and was excluded from donating blood because of perceived risk.”

“Another large portion of people who have been historically excluded are members of the LGBTQ community,” Kelley said. “We had very archaic questions around risk that really didn’t get at the real risk of transmissible diseases.”

Now the Red Cross has expanded the ability to donate using “very individualized risk assessments.”

Utahns are being asked to schedule an appointment for donation. The Red Cross says all blood types are needed, but there is a higher demand for platelet and blood Type O-positive donations. It is offering $20 Amazon gift cards to those who donate in the month of February. The organization is also encouraging local businesses, churches, schools and community groups to host blood drives.

“Right now, this second, there’s someone sitting in the hospital,” Donner said. “This is the only thing in their whole world that they’re hoping for, that there’s enough blood, so that they might wake up tomorrow.”

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Red Cross asks for help again after winter blood drive cancellations worsen ‘critical supply deficit’