In the last 100 years, the medical industry has made advancements that many people couldn’t have dreamed of. In 1923, the first successful heart valve surgery was performed; in 1964, innovations were made for the practical long-term storage of human blood; and, the advancements in 3-D printing continue to change lives for those receiving transplants and prosthetics.
Cindy Fillmore is the System Director for Laboratory Services at MyMichigan Health.
However, for all of science’s achievements in the medical field , there is still one thing it cannot do: it cannot manufacture blood. “As far as we've advanced in the scientific community, we still rely on human blood donations to save lives,” says Cindy Fillmore, MyMichigan Health, System Director for Laboratory Services.
At MyMichigan Medical Center Midland
alone, Fillmore says, about 300-400 units of red blood cells per month are needed, as well as 80-90 units of other blood components such as plasma and platelets.
“As a system, MyMichigan Health transfused about 8,000 units of red cells in calendar year 2022,” she says. That’s just what’s needed at one hospital system in the entire state, though. In order to maintain a stable blood supply, Versiti
– which supplies blood for 55% of hospitals across the state – needs to collect 550 units of blood every day, says Dawn Kaiser, Versiti Area Vice President.
“Every two seconds, somebody needs blood,” she says.
At MyMichigan Medical Center Midland alone, Cindy Fillmore says about 300-400 units of red blood cells per month are needed, as well as 80-90 units of other blood components such as plasma and platelets.
Keeping up with that demand can be a challenge in the best of times, though. In recent years, the task has been made even more difficult. Throughout the pandemic, blood donations were down across the country as people stayed home. In January of 2022, the situation was so dire that the Red Cross issued a National Blood crisis. In January 2023, Versiti issued a press release stating there was a one-day supply of blood on the shelves for Michigan’s hospitals.
Dawn Keiser is Versiti Area Vice President
“That's a really hard message to send hospitals,” says Kaiser. “We always want to have at least four to five days of blood on hand, but when we are down to a one-day supply that means that hospitals get shorted. Sometimes, we tell our hospitals that they won't receive the order that they asked for. They may have asked for 30 units of a certain type and we may say, ‘We can give you 15 today.’ We have to move blood across the state to ensure that especially our level one trauma hospitals have the blood that they need and that we have blood on reserve for big accidents - we call them mass transfusion protocols.”
Kaiser says someone who is in a bad car accident, for example, may need 40-50 units of blood.
“As far as we've advanced in the scientific community, we still rely on human blood donations to save lives,” says Cindy Fillmore, MyMichigan Health, System Director for Laboratory Services.
When hospitals can’t receive the blood they order, it means that certain procedures may not be able to take place. “Whenever we get an alert from Versiti that there are significant shortages, we alert our providers to use the blood resources judiciously. In rare cases, we may consider delaying elective surgeries,” says Fillmore. While some elective surgeries may have been delayed, trauma and emergency room visits were able to receive the necessary resources, she added.
“For a system such as ours, we can work together to coordinate our resources on the shelf,” Fillmore says. “As scary as the shortage has been, our organization has navigated successfully, working closely with Versiti and our member hospitals.”
Kaiser says the situation isn’t quite as dire now; however, the shelves are by no means fully stocked either. One of the challenges faced by Michigan’s blood banks is that many blood donors are high school and college students, so when schools are closed donations drop.
“Thirty percent of the blood that we receive at Versiti comes from high school and college donors,” says Kaiser. “We need to recruit - across our Versiti footprint - 100,000 new donors every year, and our high schools are where we get a lot of first-time donors.”
Michigan blood banks now have a few weeks to recover from those students being gone for spring break before high schools close for summer and both student and adult donors alike begin enjoying summer vacations.
With all of this in mind, it may feel like Michigan – along with many other states across the country – are in an endless spiral of blood shortages. However, policies and procedures are being proposed at the state and federal level to help change that.
At the state level, House Bill 4068
was introduced in February. This bill proposes a $25.00 tax credit for each verified blood donation.
“This is an opportunity to reward those who are already in the practice of donating blood, and we hope that the incentive will help encourage others to donate as well,” says Kaiser. “It’s a positive step in helping to stabilize the blood supply in Michigan to ensure that hospitals and patients have the
lifesaving blood they need.”
“It's just a scary situation when you're working in a laboratory blood bank and you're totally relying on volunteer donors."
Fillmore also voiced support for the bill, ““I would support any initiative out there to increase donation because we so desperately need to keep that resource on our shelf. Thankfully there are donors that come forward out of kindness and care for others. But anything we can do to support further donations will really help to cure strengthen the blood supply for organizations such as ours.”
At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed a new policy that would make it easier for members of the LGBTQ population to donate blood and plasma. In March, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a 22-state coalition in support of the proposed policy.
The current policy recommends barring gay and bisexual men from donating blood within three months of their most recent sexual contact, regardless of whether they engaged in high-risk behavior. In January of this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration introduced new proposed guidance that would abandon the current approach and instead use a risk-based analysis for all donors, regardless of gender and sexual orientation.
“As a system, MyMichigan Health transfused about 8,000 units of red cells in calendar year 2022.”
Regardless of these new initiatives and whether they are passed, blood donors are needed across Michigan now, though.
“It's just a scary situation when you're working in a laboratory blood bank and you're totally relying on volunteer donors,” says Fillmore. “It's not like you can just purchase the blood from anywhere you want. You have to wait for a Blood Center to gather volunteers and test to make sure that they're qualified to donate and that their donation is safe for the blood supply. It is quite frightening to know that every day, keeping your patients safe relies on donors - volunteer, altruistic donors. That's what you're relying on.”
You can donate blood, double red cells, or platelets at Versiti Blood Center of Michigan, located at 825 East Main St. in Midland. The donation center is open 7 days per week. Other Versiti donation centers can be found at https://www.versiti.org/blood-donation-locations/michigan