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Blood shortage prompts widespread call for donations

by KIANNA GARDNER
Daily Inter Lake | June 30, 2021 1:00 AM

Facing a critical blood shortage, the nonprofit transfusion medicine organization that supplies dozens of hospitals and clinics throughout Montana, Idaho and Washington with blood products recently urged individuals to donate blood as soon as possible to their local clinic.

The organization, Vitalant, has approximately 120 donation centers across the nation — including three in Montana — that supply more than 900 hospitals and clinics with blood products.

As of last week, new donors in Montana can get a glimpse of their blood type immediately upon giving, a new offering officials hope will encourage first-timers to sign up. Lab confirmation of a person’s blood type and other useful health information is made available in the donor’s online account approximately one week after donation.

Vitalant has been battling a severe shortage in blood supply off and on since the start of the pandemic. In March 2020, when the virus was first detected in Montana, an announcement from the donation center in Billings said school closures and business shutdowns alone had prompted an immediate 25% decline in donations.

Now, more than one year later, that shortage lingers.

Vitalant officials said last week the organization had “less than a needed four-day supply of most blood types to meet patient needs at a moment’s notice.” Type O blood — the type most often used in trauma situations — was below a two-day supply.

Officials said Vitalant continues to feel the donation sting from blood drive cancellations forced by COVID-19. For example, anticipated uncollected donations from business-hosted blood drive cancellations reached a four-month high of more than 6,200 blood donations in June. And before that, donations fell more than 4,000 short of overall need in May.

“A drop in donations over any period of time is concerning, but especially right now when the supply is already low,” Vitalant’s Chief Medical and Scientific Officer Dr. Ralph Vassallo said in a prepared statement. “Blood and platelet donations are needed now and throughout the summer to prevent delays in future life saving patient care.”

Vitalant officials said aside from canceled blood drives, there are three primary events that have contributed to the immediate need for blood: communities reopening, patients seeking medical care that was postponed during the pandemic and resumed summer travel. The latter is especially true for travel destinations such as Flathead County, which typically experiences a bump in hospital-related activity over the summer.

There is one Vitalant donation center in Flathead County located at the intersection of U.S. 2 and East Reserve Drive in the Evergreen area. The center, which also receives regular blood shipments from larger Vitalant centers like the one in Spokane, supplies Logan Health with the vast majority of its blood product needs.

Logan Health Spokesperson Chris Leopold said local hospitals and clinics may lean on other sources if Vitalant’s supply were to be depleted during a “catastrophic or emergency event.”

Those interested in donating at the Evergreen donation center located at 2593 U.S. 2 East can make an appointment online at vitalant.org. The center is currently open Tuesdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursdays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., though hours are subject to change and may vary during holidays.

The local American Red Cross Blood Donation Center at 126 N. Meridian Road in Kalispell offers regular blood drives, both at its center and at other locations throughout the Flathead Valley.

For more information about Red Cross blood drives, call 1-800-733-2767.