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Michigan blood donations still lagging pre-pandemic levels

blood donation
While blood donations are inching upward, blood supply is still lower than before the pandemic. (Shutterstock)

Spencer Wood has donated blood 25 times throughout his life after receiving a blood transfusion of his own when he was a child to treat a rare blood disease. But, as the 22-year-old Morrice resident has returned to donate blood throughout the pandemic, he has noticed largely vacant donation centers.

 “I definitely noticed a lack of people,” Wood said of the centers where he went to donate blood. He noted that “fear and uncertainty” around the coronavirus pandemic “kept a lot of people out of the lines to go in there and donate.

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A blood donor shortage that emerged during the pandemic has continued in Michigan and across the country. The American Red Cross declared a national blood crisis in January citing that it was seeing its worst shortage in more than a decade. At the time of the declaration, the Red Cross noted it has seen a 10 percent decline in donations since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Low blood supply has caused doctors to conduct more screenings for patients to see if more or less blood work is necessary. It has also caused hospitals to consolidate their stockpiles and transfer their blood supply to other facilities that may be in more need.

“The scary part about blood products is there's no alternative,” Nicholas Decker, laboratory director for Memorial Healthcare in Owosso, told Bridge Michigan. “We need it. We have it or we don’t have it.”

After blood donations and supply dropped to dangerously low levels in January, doctors in charge of blood banks around the state are seeing a new uptick in donors, but still not to pre-pandemic levels.

“We were quite concerned that we would potentially be reaching a critical situation, we got close, but never quite hit that,” Rob Davenport, director of Transfusion Medicine at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor, told Bridge Michigan. “It now has improved. However, things are not back to normal.” 

There still remains a shortage in O negative blood type. O negative is typically used in blood transfusions and can be used universally, but for people with O negative, there are no substitutes. 

“The need continues,” Davenport said. “[Blood supply] is a critical piece of medical care. Unless we as a community continue to support blood donations, people are going to suffer.”

According to Decker, the lab director in Owosso, doctors have begun looking for more additives to extend the lifespan of blood products. Summer lulls in donations are also being preempted by the opening of blood donation areas in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

Doctors are further prioritizing ways to reach people in rural communities and boost minority donors.

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Davenport noted that the best way to boost participation in minority communities is by “being open and honest,” acknowledging that the health care system has not always served these communities correctly and focusing messaging on building trust within the community. 

People like Wood, who needed transfusions as a child, know how important it is to have adequate blood supplies.

“There's always going to be a need for it,” Wood said. “It takes less than an hour if you get in there and you do all the procedures correctly and on time. It's always something I would venture to say is worth trying.”

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