Jim Goldman doesn’t make the trip to Seattle from Port Hadlock, Jefferson County, very often. When he does, it’s usually to run a couple of errands or to get his hair cut. But there’s one stop he tries to make every time — a visit to Bloodworks Northwest’s blood-donation center in downtown Seattle.
“It’s become part of my downtown Seattle routine,” he said Monday afternoon, as a health worker fiddled with a tube looped around his arm. “We had pop-up clinics near my home. They closed up.”
Washington’s hospitals need donors like Goldman more than ever right now. Blood banks say the state is facing a critical blood shortage with a drop in donations at a time when hospital operations are resuming after being postponed during the pandemic. They’re issuing an urgent call for more donors to help keep hospitals running smoothly and to save lives.
“The current blood supply situation is precarious,” Bloodworks Executive Vice President Vicki Finson said. “We are critically short of all blood types, and we’ve been that way for a few weeks now, which is new for us. This is the lowest inventory levels … since the pandemic.”
Blood transfusions are essential for a number of hospital operations, from organ transplants to surgeries to supporting cancer patients.
Dr. Monica Pagano, director of transfusion services at the UW Medical Center, said a shortage in blood supply could force hospitals into contingency plans to save blood for only the most important procedures. Blood transfusions and surgeries, she said, could be delayed.
The University of Washington’s hospitals are operating as normal with adequate blood supply, Pagano said. But with blood being supplied to hospitals on a day-by-day basis, she’s concerned they could be impacted soon.
“We think that if we do not act now, it can become a little difficult [for us] in the near future,” she said.
Blood shortages are being reported nationwide, according to the American Red Cross, as hospitals restart elective procedures long postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Transfusion rates are extremely high, and have been for several months, Finson said. When the pandemic began, hospitals had to delay services that weren’t absolutely urgent to keep beds open for COVID-19 patients. But now, they’re back in full force, she said.
As the demand for blood increases, Washington blood banks say the frequency of donations has dropped slightly in the past month, perhaps as the arrival of vaccines and warmer weather has left people too busy enjoying the summer to schedule donations. And the Fourth of July is just around the corner.
“We know that blood donations drop during holidays,” Pagano said. “I would urge the community to come and donate over the next two or three weeks to make sure that we have enough blood supply, not only for the daily operations but also thinking that the Fourth of July is coming.”
Finson said concerns about COVID-19 or vaccinations should not stop people from donating. Safety precautions will continue to be kept in place, including mask requirements, social distancing and regular cleaning, she said.
“We’ve kept our staff and our donors 100% safe,” Finson said. “The other thing is vaccinations. It doesn’t matter if you have or haven’t been vaccinated, as far as donating blood.”
On Monday afternoon at the donation center, there seemed to be only one side effect for blood donors: gratification.
“It seems like a really easy way to do something good,” said Taylor Knowles, who’s been donating blood regularly ever since the 2017 Amtrak crash near Dupont encouraged him to get involved.
Cedra Garcia, who sat at the station next to him, agreed.
“It’s been a hard year and a half,” she said. “This is something I can do.”