Doctors Having to Make Critical Patient Care Decisions Amid Historic Blood Shortage

The Red Cross on Tuesday declared a national blood crisis for the first time due to a critically low blood supply. A medical director for the organization said the emergency shortage is forcing doctors to make incredibly hard choices in terms of care.

"Doctors are being put in a position of having to make decisions about where the blood is going to go," Dr. Baia Lasky, a medical director for the American Red Cross, told Newsweek.

Lasky added that the shortage, which the Red Cross said is its worst in over a decade, "has the potential to really compromise patient care."

In a statement about the shortage, the Red Cross attributed much of the blame of the current shortage to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The organization said that since the beginning of the pandemic, it has experienced a 10 percent decline in the number of people donating blood.

Along with fewer people turning out to donate blood, the Red Cross cited blood drive cancellations due to COVID as part of the emergency levels of the blood supply. Campus and school closures, the sites of many blood drives, have also drastically affected collection efforts.

Red Cross
A medical director at the Red Cross discussed with "Newsweek" how the pandemic has caused a critically low blood supply. In this photo, an empty donation table with the American Red Cross logo is seen at the KFC YUM! Center during the Starts, Stripes, and Pints blood drive event on July 7, 2021, in Louisville, Kentucky. Getty

Added to the list are "staffing limit limitations" at the Red Cross caused by the virus. "We're seeing the largest surge in COVID cases that we've ever seen...probably about double of where we were last year. It's impacting our ability to collect; it's impacting manufacturing," Lasky said.

Lasky explained that the Red Cross faces difficulties in the winter anyway, due to sick donors or weather impacting the ability of potential blood suppliers.

"It's really just the perfect storm of complications that have significantly impacted our ability to collect blood while the demand remains as strong as ever," she said. "While there are so many things in our lives that have changed and been put on hold, illness is not put on hold. Traumas, burn patients, cancer patients, organ transplants, cardiac surgeries, labor and delivery: All of these things require blood on a daily basis, and none of that has taken a pause during the pandemic."

The Red Cross supplies approximately 40 percent of the nation's blood, and it has had to limit blood distributions to hospitals in recent weeks. Lasky said, "We are often at less than a half-day supply for certain blood types."

For anyone who may be hesitant of visiting hospitals or blood donation sites because of concerns of contracting the virus, Lasky said the Red Cross follows all the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "to ensure that we're providing a safe environment. All of our staff and donors are required to wear masks. We follow cleaning protocols set forth by the CDC."

She encouraged donors to make appointments rather than show up to a center so that staff can better manage the flow of individuals to keep the environment as safe as possible.

If someone is not able to donate blood for any reason, Lasky said there are other ways they can help.

"We are always in need of volunteers to help at our donor centers," she said. "Donations are absolutely welcome, and they can help coordinate the sponsoring of a drive."