Roll up your sleeve – a national blood shortage is creating local problems

The pandemic has created a health crisis in more ways than one. Versiti Blood Center of Michigan is reporting a desperate need for blood – especially type O.

“Because of the COVID surge we’re getting cancellations,” says Dawn Kaiser, Vice President & Director of Blood Services for Versiti, which is based in Grand Rapids but has a donor center at 1017 N. Johnson St. in Bay City.

“Schools are making the decision that they don’t want us in their schools because they’re nervous, but when high schools make up 30% of the blood supply, we’re feeling it.”

Schools aren’t the only places canceling drives, and Kaiser says there’s a ripple effect.

Right now, Kaiser says Versiti, one of the top suppliers of blood products in this area has less than a one-day supply of O type blood. That is significant not only for the Great Lakes Bay Region, but across the country.

Versiti Blood Centers are relying on cleaning, sanitizing, and masking to keep donors healthy. Versiti also offers incentives to donors.“Hospital demand has gone up. They need these lifesaving transfusion products, but some hospitals are being told they need to reduce demand because we can’t fill it.”

“I’ve never seen it this rough,” says Kaiser, who says they’ve also added to their call centers. “It’s really dire when you have less than a day’s supply of O.”

She says despite safety measures such as masking, cleaning, and sanitizing, people are not getting out to donate.
 
'We’re also looking for people to host blood drives. ... Look for a blood drive, and if you don’t see one, consider hosting one.'

- Dawn Kaiser of Versiti Blood Center
Kaiser says the blood shortage is a community problem, and one that can be solved with the help of people willing to give. Versiti is offering incentives such as vouchers to local breweries and gift cards. New donors can receive a $25 gift card from any one of a handful of retailers, and through the “Pint for a Pint” incentive, a pint of beer at a local brewery.

“We’re doing everything possible to get people to come out,” she says.

With cancellations happening within just a few hours of a blood drive, Kaiser says they often already have the drives staffed and ready to go, so they will go just about anywhere and set up.

“We’re also looking for people to host blood drives.” Whether it’s a church, a community group, or civic organization, “look for a blood drive, and if you don’t see one, consider hosting one.”

Anyone who is feeling healthy and well is invited to see whether they’re eligible to donate, Kaiser says. While there are donation risks, they are few, and a simple screening will let you know if you’re eligible. Donating doesn’t take much time, either. Kaiser says the time from when a donor walks in the door until they’re at the refreshment table is about an hour.

“The country is going through a lot,” says Kaiser, and everywhere there is someone with a hand out for donations. “This is something that’s free and you can help a lot of people. You don’t have to get out your checkbook,” just roll up your sleeves.

To find a donation site, log onto www.versiti.org and click the Donate Now button.