BILLINGS — Blood donation centers and hospitals in Billings are grappling with a nationwide blood shortage that prompted the American Red Cross to announce a national blood crisis for the first time.
The Red Cross reports it saw a 34% decline in new donors in 2021 and a 10% decline in blood donations dating back to March 2020 - the worst blood shortage in more than a decade - and Billings is not immune.
Dr. Barry McKenzie, trauma surgeon and trauma medical director at St. Vincent Healthcare, said it's tough to pin down exactly how short the local blood supply is, depending on the type of blood products available and how many patients are in the hospital.
"That number is difficult to kind of pin down and really put an objective stat to it. But you can really get a sense right now. I receive updates right now on critical shortages of various products, platelets, et cetera. And I've gotten a lot of those over the past few weeks," McKenzie said.
Vitalant, the blood donation center that serves the Billings area hospitals, is experiencing similar shortages. Vitalant reports that it fell short of the need by more than 4,500 donations in December and the trend has continued into January.
“The need for blood is always present. From trauma, to cancer patients to big surgery patients to cardiac patients. There’s always a need of blood there. There are just times throughout the year that we do really run into shortages in the community," McKenzie said.
Blood donation centers often experience a dip in donations in the winter with people not wanting to travel, but part of the problem now is COVID-19.
"I think people are really hesitant to really go out and be in public sometimes. Especially some of those donors that may be retired individuals or with some health risks that may not allow them to go out or make them nervous to go out and have a blood donation. Yet, having donated blood (at Vitalant) within the last couple months they do a great job. They create a very safe environment," McKenzie said.
The Red Cross says that all blood types are needed. However, they're specifically appealing to people with O-positive and O-negative blood types. With 38% of the population being O-positive, it's the most transfused blood type. People who are type O-negative are universal donors.
To schedule a donation with the American Red Cross, click here.