WASHINGTON – The state’s blood supply has improved from the critically low levels of this summer, but blood banks said donors are still needed, particularly with an expected decline during the holiday season.
“We are meeting the hospital needs,” for the moment, said Kim Hilliard, a director of donor recruitment for the American Red Cross. But, if someone needed blood today, availability would be dependent upon donations from three to four days ago.
“We really need the public to understand that we need a certain number of donors each day,” said Linda Wilson of Inova Blood Donor Services, a Northern Virginia-based service that also helps supply some Maryland hospitals.
Officials at Inova like to see 200 donors a day, Wilson said, but that number rarely goes above 200. And on some days, the number of donors can drop as low as 70.
Even an ample of supply of blood doesn’t necessarily mean hospitals will not be in need. Some blood types are used more frequently than others.
About 45 percent of the population can donate blood, Hilliard said. And only about 3 percent of those that qualify actually donate in this region — the national average is 5 percent.
Hilliard and Wilson said potential donors shouldn’t focus on the fears surrounding donation, but focus on the benefits to others.
“With every donation, you’re helping to save three to four lives,” Hilliard said. One donation of whole blood — a pint — can be separated into one unit of platelets, one unit of plasma and one unit of red blood cells.
“This is an opportunity for them (donors) to impact someone’s life,” Wilson said.
And people don’t have to bleed until they pass out. If every eligible donor donated a little more than twice a year, that would help supplies dramatically, Wilson said.
Some area donor services also offer weekend hours so donors don’t have to miss work.
Wilson said a drop in donors over the holiday season is not unusual. With people traveling during the season and caught up in holiday activities, it is difficult to schedule a blood drive that has any hope of success at that time of year.
The Greater Chesapeake and Potomac region of the Red Cross, which supplies this area, provides more than 80 hospitals with over 350,000 units of blood every year. But not all of that blood comes from donors in this area, Hilliard said.
About 50,000 units each year are imported from other parts of the country. In some areas, Hilliard said, people are donating more than that community needs.
The goal for Hilliard’s region over the next four years is to become self- sufficient so it will not have to depend on imported blood to supply area hospitals.
“We don’t want to have to depend on anybody,” Hilliard said.
Some hospitals have also taken to hedging their bets in the blood-supply business, however.
Cindy Merz of Suburban Hospital Healthcare System said the hospital has felt little impact from this year’s blood shortage, because it uses two blood suppliers — Inova and the Red Cross — in order to keep up with demand.