PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The American Red Cross is once again putting the call out for blood, platelet and plasma donations as it experiences its “worst blood shortage in over a decade,” having less than a one-day supply of critical types in recent weeks.

The nonprofit says the shortage is posing risks to patient care and “doctors have been forced to make difficult decisions about who received blood transfusions and who will need to wait until more products become available.”

The American Red Cross does not collect blood in Rhode Island, but it does provide blood and blood products to some hospitals in the state. However, blood drives are hosted by Red Cross in Bristol County, Mass. and in neighboring Connecticut.

Find a blood drive hosted by the Red Cross »

The Rhode Island Blood Center (RIBC) declared three blood emergencies in 2021 alone. Kara LeBlanc, the center’s marketing communications manager, tells 12 News the issue has persisted for the last 18 months of the pandemic, as is a “prolonged crisis and problem.”

Beginning in February, the center is adjusting the days and hours of its six donor centers in part due to staffing challenges, especially when it comes to phlebotomists, who they’re working to recruit.

Using data from the past 12 months on where appointments are most frequently being booked, RIBC plans to increase hours at some centers and reduce them at others.

LeBlanc says while there are mobile drives running now, RIBC is planning to host more, which it says account for approximately 50% of the state’s blood supply and are its primary source of new and youth donors.

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LeBlanc says the blood center is urging people to book an appointment as soon as possible, because a donation “will be needed just as much as it is then that is is now.”

The Red Cross, which supplies 40% of the nation’s blood supply, says some hospitals may not receive one in four blood products they need. Blood cannot be manufactured or stockpiled.

“Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood, and unfortunately, emergencies have not stopped during this pandemic,” Jocelyn Hillard, regional communications director for the American Red Cross Connecticut and Rhode Island Region said.

“As we continue to work with our communities to take care of our patients in need, it’s so important that you’re making a blood donation today if you’re feeling healthy and well,” Hillard added.

The Red Cross says several factors are contributing to the shortage, including:

  • 10% overall blood donation decline since March 2020
  • 62% drop in college and high school blood drives due to the pandemic; student donors accounted for roughly 25% of donors in 2019, compared to just 10% during the pandemic
  • Ongoing blood drive cancellations due to illness, weather-related closures and staffing limitations
  • Additional factors like a surge of COVID-19 cases and an active flu season

Dr. Francois Luks, pediatric surgeon in chief at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, tells 12 News hospitals start to “sound the alarm” when blood supplies drop below 50%. Luks says Hasbro has been down to 25%, and is only in “slightly better” shape now, for an ironic reason.

Luks says staffing shortages have led to a temporary pause on some elective surgeries at Lifespan hospitals.

“And so in an ironic twist, we’re okay for now, because we are not doing major elective surgery but that’s only a temporary issue for us,” Luks said.

“Fortunately we have been able to to use the blood products that we needed, but at the same time we are sometimes second guessing ourselves, or at least scrutinizing the need for blood, where in the past maybe we would have been a little more liberal with using blood products,” Luks added.

While all blood types are urgently needed, the Red Cross says the most critically needed are:

  • Type O Positive: The most transfused blood type, which can be given to Rh-positive patients of any blood type. About 38% of the population has O positive blood, making it the most common blood type.
  • Type O Negative: The universal blood type and what emergency room personnel reach for when there is no time to determine the blood type of patients in the most serious situations.
  • Platelets: The clotting portion of blood, which must be transfused within five days of donation. Nearly half of all platelet donations are given to patients undergoing cancer treatments.

“We are one major trauma away from really depleting our blood supplies in the hospitals,” Luks said.

He also wants people to know the process of donating blood is safe, and hospitals rely on the community to donate.

“This is how you can help your fellow Rhode Islanders, by just donating if you can,” Luks said.

“We need young people to start into the habit of donating blood again. It’s a perfectly safe, safe thing to do. And we just rely on the whole community to come together to help us out,” he added.