A worsening blood shortage is forcing community donation center Bloodworks Northwest to evaluate orders from hospitals in an attempt to conserve the region’s razor-thin inventory.

Shortages have been a challenge since the beginning of the year, and the center’s current supplies are about 25% of normal, said Vicki Finson, executive vice president of Bloodworks, which serves scores of hospitals in Western Washington and Oregon.

The shortage also has reinforced the need for blood donors, Finson said.

“Right now our blood supply is not as reliable as we need it to be,” she said. “No matter what happens, traumas, a massive event with multiple casualties, we need to be ready for those events.”

The focus on ensuring trauma centers have needed supplies has required Bloodworks to limit hospital orders for transfusions that could be delayed without harm to the patient, Finson said.

Many hospitals in the region have recently curtailed or minimized procedures not considered medical emergencies because of a lack of bed space amid the surge in coronavirus cases. Bloodworks is anticipating a surge in demand once hospitals begin tackling the backlog in earnest, Finson said.

Blood transfusion rates in the last six months have been the highest in five years, adding to already existing stresses. Normally blood centers will help each other during times of high demand, but that’s nearly impossible right now because none have excess inventory, Finson said.

“The need is there all the time,” Finson said.

Blood centers are following safety protocols for COVID-19 exposure, including appointment-based donations at all Bloodworks centers in Western Washington and at dozens of pop-up sites, which can be found on its website.