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LA Trauma Center Shuts Down Due to Blood Shortage

The American Red Cross announced its first-ever blood shortage this week

The Harbor-UCLA Medical Center’s trauma center shut down for two hours because it did not have enough blood for patients.

The center was temporarily closed to new patients on Jan. 10 by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. It is the first closure in the center’s thirty years of history. The trauma center reopened after receiving supplemental blood from neighboring hospitals. 

The medical director of the Los Angeles County EMS Agency, Dr. Marianne Gausche-Hill, said the decision was a result of the national blood shortage.

“I can’t emphasize enough just how urgent and critical this blood shortage is for L.A. County residents,” Gausche-Hill told the Los Angeles Times.

The American Red Cross announced this week that its supply of blood was critically low. The nonprofit supplies 40% of the blood used in the country for medical treatments and procedures.

“Dangerously low blood supply levels are posing a concerning risk to patient care and forcing doctors to make difficult decisions about who receives blood transfusions and who will need to wait until more products become available,” the Red Cross said in its statement.

Blood donations declined with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of new donors declined by 34% during 2021. Additionally, the accumulation of donor blood was further slowed due to the repeated cancellation of blood drives across the country. The organization has said the inventory for every blood type is low.

“Of the 59 community blood centers across North America, the latest survey shows 17 are down to less than a days’ supply of blood. Another 10 have just one to two days’ worth,” reports WTSP-TV Tampa-St. Petersburg.

More medical centers nationwide may begin to feel the strain of the shortage over the next few months.

Dr. Christina Ghaly, the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, told the Times that the shortage coupled with rising COVID-19 cases could result in delayed treatment for patients in need.

“Closing down a trauma center in the middle of a COVID-19 surge — when hospitals and ambulance providers are already struggling and when emergency departments are already strained — can result in dangerous delays to patients in need of urgent lifesaving medical attention,” said Ghaly in a statement.

Vitalant, the blood donation center which services about 900 hospitals across 28 states, announced that it was experiencing the same shortages as the Red Cross. 

The organization reported it fell 4,500 donations short of its needed supply in December and expects the same lag to continue during January.

“It’s important for people to remember that they can give blood immediately after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine if you’re healthy and well,” said Vitalant Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ralph Vassallo in the statement. “To ensure patient care isn’t jeopardized, we need people to schedule an appointment today. Even if the appointment is several weeks from now, setting and keeping it will help replenish what’s needed for both routine treatments and emergencies.”  

Vitalant is trying to encourage people to make a donation with a chance to win a $5,000 gift card. 

The drawing is a “special thank you” to “all eligible donors” who donated during January. Vitalant specifically encouraged “those with the most transfused blood type O, which is currently at less than half of the desired four-day supply,” to “make an appointment now to give in the days and weeks ahead.”

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