United Blood Services: Blood shortage reaches critical levels

United Blood Services is calling for donors to help alleviate Northern Nevada's blood supply shortage, which has reached critical levels according to Community Relations Director Alana Ladd-Ross.

"We're going into Labor Day and we'd like to keep a 3-day supply on hand, but we're not there," Ladd-Ross said. "We need all we can get. We just took in 177 units last Friday, but they're already committed (to replenish hospital blood bank supplies). We're out of blood right now, and we'll need 120 units per day just to stay current.

"If you give blood, you are saving one life and possibly more," Ladd-Ross said.

She said that normally there are no adverse side-effects to donation. "It takes from one to one-and-a-half hours, and you're out the door.

"We're trying to keep from going into an emergency," Ladd-Ross said. Emergency status would mean elective surgeries would have to be canceled until the blood supply is stabilized to reserve those units for critical needs and emergencies. "We're very close to that situation. There is no substitute for blood."

Emergency needs can be met through other agencies. The organization has 23 centers nationally and requesting units from Las Vegas would be their first option. When needs can't be met internally, the organization can turn to the Red Cross.

"But they're having the same problem. It's been a really rough year nationwide, and the situation isn't getting better. People aren't donating as much, or they're using it more," Ladd-Ross said.

She said that 65 percent of the population will need blood at one time or another during their lifetime, but only 5 percent donate.

A unit lasts 42 days and can't be saved, frozen or stockpiled. United Blood Services is calling for all types. Even O positive, the most common, is in demand.

"Most people have 0 positive blood, and 38 percent of people in the hospital are also that type," she said.

United Blood Services supplies a 122,000-square-mile area including Northern Nevada, Northern California and the Eastern Sierra. This covers 30 hospitals serving Bishop and Mammoth to the south, Winnemucca, Elko, and Lovelock to the east, and Lake Tahoe, Susanville, and Quincy to the north.

"We have blood drives in those areas too," Ladd-Ross said, noting that everyone pitches in. Elko, Bishop, and Susanville conduct 500-unit drives during the year, but those numbers represent a minority of the 30,000 units processed annually. About 20-25 percent of all units are eliminated after being screened for diseases.

Three screens are performed for HIV, as well as tests for three types of liver disease, syphilis, and routine typing. Processing costs are estimated at $100 per unit, and extra costs are incurred when blood must be transported from other areas.

"It's best, when we can get it in our own geographic area," Ladd-Ross said.


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