Facing blood shortage, MyMichigan Health & UP Regional Blood Center urge public to donate

Small communities have their benefits – they band together through times of difficulty, you can’t go into town without seeing someone you know, and everyone looks out for each other. However, undoubtedly, there are situations that are made more challenging by living in a small community as well. One such situation is a blood shortage.

While it’s true that the state of Michigan as a whole is facing a blood shortage, the situation in the Upper Peninsula is unique due to the rural environment and smaller population. Upper Peninsula Regional Blood Center (UPRBC) supplies blood for all 13 of the hospitals in the Upper Peninsula and blood they collect stays within the Upper Peninsula.

Our goal is to provide hospitals with everything they need,” Dana Langsford, manager of transfusion and donor services at the UPRBC. “The UP is so small by population and we only collect our blood here, so when we’re experiencing a shortage it can be more difficult for us because we already have a small donor pool.”

With a smaller donor pool and aging population, blood donations in the U.P. aren’t coming in at the rate local hospitals are putting in orders.Jennifer Kabat, Laboratory Co-Director at MyMichigan Medical Center Sault, says in the last six months there have only been a handful of times when they have received all of the blood they ordered. She adds that one of the challenges faced by MyMichigan Medical Center Sault, as with other hospitals in the UP, is that in the event of an emergency there isn’t a facility nearby that can easily help supply the blood demanded.

“For example, Midland might have 45 minutes to the next big hospital that would have something on the shelf that could help them; whereas, the next closest hospital that might have enough to supply us is in Marquette,” says Kabat. “We do have verbal agreements with Mackinaw Straits Health System and the facility in Newberry to reach out to them in dire need, but that would then deplete them. And if they're depleted, they’re in the same boat we are. So, I think that's one of the struggles we have in a rural area.” 

Both Langsford and Kabat agree that one of the key solutions to tackling the ongoing blood shortage problem is to raise awareness in the younger generations, as well as encourage recurring donors.

“A large part of our donor demographic is the retired community; and, unfortunately, when you reach retiring age you may have a higher chance of developing health concerns or medications that may disqualify you from donating. So, we are encouraging our younger generation to step up and begin donating,” says Langsford. “We host blood drives at high schools and colleges quite frequently, and it is very helpful while school is in session.”

While 38% of the population of the United States is able to donate blood, only about 10% does. Langsford says the UPRBC provides a special incentive to high school students to donate blood. 

“If a high school student donates five times before they graduate high school, they receive a special certificate from us and a red cord that they can wear at graduation,” he says.

However, high school students aren’t the only people to receive a little incentive to donate blood. Langsford says UPRBC has a program at the Marquette clinic called “Supporter of the Month.” Each month, a different local business offers a promotion for everyone who donates blood. 

“It’s a great way to promote donations, while also collaborating with businesses in the area,” he explains. “Individuals can donate every eight weeks, so the incentives can really start to add up.”

Jennifer Kabat and Claire LaPlaunt, Laboratory Co-Directors at MyMichigan Medical Center Sault.There are even policies and procedures being proposed in government to help incentivize the public to donate blood.

At the state level, House Bill 4068 was introduced in February. This bill proposes a $25.00 tax credit for each verified blood donation.

“We feel anything that encourages a donor to do a good deed and give back to their community is a positive step in the right direction,” states Langsford.

For those who are considering donating blood, as well as those who already do, Kabat and Langsford want to issue a reminder that it’s not only red blood cells that are needed. 

“We are all familiar with donating red blood cells, but there are other types of donations that are important for patient care as well, such as platelets and what we call fresh frozen plasma - that liquid portion of a patient's blood,” says Kabat. “Those are all important components that might be needed during patient care or in a trauma situation.”

Langsford adds that platelets are also in high demand, and a platelet donor can donate every two weeks.

“A platelet is good for five days, which is significantly less than a whole blood unit that is good for 42 days,” he explains. “So, platelets have a very small shelf life, and they’re frequently used for cancer patients or those who have been through trauma.”

Whether donating red blood cells, platelets or plasma, all donations are important. For all of science’s achievements in the medical field, blood still cannot be manufactured. The supply relies totally on human donors. Langsford says that while 38% of the population of the United States is able to donate blood, only about 10% does. 

“We urge people to become part of the 10%. You never know when you or someone you love may need it. There is no substitute for blood, but one donation can save up to three lives.”

MyMichigan Medical Center Sault uses around 200 units of blood per quarter, according to Kabat; and, in 2022, they used a little over 950 units of blood.

While it can be easy to think, “I’m sure the blood is there when it’s truly needed,” she says to remember that you never know when you may be the one needing a lifesaving transfusion. After all, every two seconds someone in the United States needs blood.

“You cannot predict when you would need blood - anyone from the age of a newborn up,” says Kabat. “As we drive automobiles and as we go about our daily life, in 20 minutes you may be the person that needs a unit of blood. And, as a community, the best we can do is give something painless and harmless to help provide for our local community.”
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