It’s National Blood Donor Month
This month represents many things…a new year, a clean slate, and a fresh start for so many of us. In a way, donating blood offers the same – it can offer a new beginning and the gift of life for those who need it.
January is also National Blood Donor Month, when we call attention to the importance of donating blood. Unfortunately, right now the need has never been greater. At the time of this writing, the Rhode Island Blood Center (RIBC) reports that the region is under a blood emergency, the third since the beginning of 2021. That means that the supply of blood is only at a one- or two-day inventory, well below the ideal seven-day inventory.
It’s typical to see seasonal decreases in blood supply at the holidays, as people are busier and travel more. But this year, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – and specifically with the onset of the Omicron variant and further instability in our healthcare landscape – turnout of blood donors decreased even further. And it’s not just a local problem – blood centers across the country are suffering from shortages that have existed for most of the pandemic, since early 2020. Prior to the pandemic, healthcare facilities would rely on the national blood surplus to offset regional shortages, but this year, there isn’t a national surplus.
Besides fear of COVID-19 infection, factors influencing this trend include donor fatigue; fewer blood drives, especially in corporate and academic settings with so many still working and learning from home; donor cancellations or no-shows due to temporary quarantines or again, fear; and confusion over blood donor eligibility due to vaccination status (people can donate regardless of vaccination status).
So, what can you do? Remind your patients about the critical need for blood donation and reassure them about how easy and safe it is. It’s one of the easiest ways for people to help others and ensure that our hospitals have enough life-saving blood on-hand for those who need it.
I’ll leave you with a little history lesson tied to this important subject. He may not be widely known, but Charles R. Drew was an African American physician who is considered the “father of blood banking." He made groundbreaking discoveries in the storage and processing of blood plasma for transfusion and organized the first large-scale blood bank in the U.S. Dr. Drew also directed the blood plasma programs for the U.S. and Great Britain in World War II, until resigning after a rule that the blood of African Americans would be segregated. He’s just one example of a pioneering African American physician, and you’ll learn more in next month’s column as we salute Black History Month.
As always, thank you for your partnership and for all you do to help our members stay safe and healthy. Happy New Year from all of us at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island!