The Nation Has a Major Blood Shortage

W A S H I N G T O N, Sept. 19, 2000 -- A critical shortage of blood has forced the cancellation of elective surgeries in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Atlanta, the American Red Cross said today.

Both the Red Cross and America’s Blood Centers (ABC), which together represent virtually all U.S. blood banks, reported severe shortages at a season when blood supplies are usually adequate.

One of Worst Shortages

“This is one of the worst ones that the Red Cross has seen,” Red Cross President Dr. Bernadine Healy said in a telephone interview.

Healy said 32 of her group’s 36 regions were on appeal, which means either they have less than a day’s supply of blood available or they simply have inadequate supply to meet hospital demand.

Those cities in urgent need include Los Angeles, Baltimore, Detroit, St. Louis and Philadelphia, according to the Red Cross. ABC said there were severe shortages throughout the Northeast.

Need to Cancel Elective Surgery

She said the Red Cross had advised hospitals to cancel elective surgery in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Philadelphia.

The reason for the shortage is increased demand, much of it due to the increased number of complex therapies such as chemotherapy, organ transplants and heart surgeries, which require large amounts of blood and blood products, both groups said.

Just one liver transplant can use 120 units of donated blood, ABC’s Melissa McMillan said by telephone.

The increase in demand far outpaces the increase in blood donations, Healy said, with donations increasing annually by about 3 percent and demand growing at 6 percent.

Behind by 40,000 Units

The Red Cross needs 80,000 units on hand daily, but now has only about 36,000 a day, according to Healy.

“People often forget for how many medical procedures blood is a vital necessity,” Healy said.

Blood shortages are common during the summer months, when schools and businesses are less likely to have blood drives, according to spokeswomen for both the Red Cross and ABC.

But a crisis in September is unusual and alarming, McMillan said.

Shortages Uncommon This Season

“Shortages at this time of the year are uncommon,” said McMillan said. “It’s a bit frightening, to be honest.”

The Red Cross got its message across in a stark advertisement in Monday’s Washington Post : “URGENT: BLOOD APPEAL. This is a crisis. More patients need blood and we urgently need your help. Please, give blood right away.”

Those who wish to donate blood can call the Red Cross at 1 800 GIVE LIFE. They can also call ABC at 1 800 BLOOD 88 or contact its Web site at