HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – The recent uptick in violent crime has area hospitals responding to an unusually high number of traumas. This comes as the nation faces a severe shortage of blood.
As more gunshot victims flood into hospitals, trauma cases go up - and so does the demand for blood, with Virginia’s ERs seeing a 10% jump in demand this year.
“This is [an] unprecedented shortage that we've never seen before,” said Dr. Daniel Munn, the chief of surgery at Riverside Regional Medical Center. “We are basically receiving about half of what we would normally have as our standard order of blood products. We're constantly on shortage and constantly trying to maintain our normal operations with much more limited blood supply.”
Dr. Munn is also the Trauma and Acute Care Surgery director. He said a gunshot victim typically needs about six units of blood. In comparison, Munn said a person with multiple gunshot wounds or involved in a serious car crash, 30 to 40 units of blood might be used.
“One major trauma can deplete our entire supply very quickly,” he said. “We always backfill as quickly as we can, and we have all sorts of mechanisms in place to try and refill our supply and make sure that we never go below a critical level, but the shortage is that significant.”
Mark Rath, associate VP of accreditation and support operations at Riverside, said the health system works with the Red Cross to make sure they don’t run out of blood.
“Through careful case review and utilization, we have achieved approximately a 25% reduction in blood use while still providing excellent care to our patients,” he said. “A trauma that results in a massive transfusion could significantly impact supplies on hand and as with other cases, we keep a close eye on use and replenishment efforts.”
Dr. Munn said, “We do use a large volume of blood products for one individual gunshot victim often, depending on the type of injury, but it's also the continuous use of blood products for cancer patients and open heart surgeries and other things like that that are also are using blood products constantly and that impacts the shortage as well.”
Bon Secours is also feeling the impact. Although Mary Immaculate is not a trauma center, the hospital is getting less blood.
Bon Secours Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marlene Capps said the hospital is working with local partners to make sure patients who unexpectedly and quickly need blood have it.
“We’re being very careful with our small supply,” she said. “Every day, we do an inventory of what we have and what we might need and managing, especially outpatients who come in for transfusions that could wait a week or two. We’ve had to juggle some folks. Rather than coming in this week, wait until we could get a supply of what they needed in a week or two if our supplies otherwise for that day were just too low to protect us in the event that one of our laboring women or one of our surgical cases would unexpectedly need a blood product.”
Dr. Capps said patients who might need to hold off on a blood transfusion include people who have chronic anemia or a nutritional deficiency.
“Because that person is not actively bleeding, it may not be emergent, and we may be able to hold off for a week or two until supplies improve,” she said.
Both hospital systems, however, said they have not yet had to delay elective surgeries because of the blood shortage, which has been the case with some hospitals in the northeastern part of the country.
A spokesperson for Sentara Healthcare sent a statement saying the blood shortage has not impacted patient care, but they are continuing to closely monitor the supply.
The statement read, “We have been experiencing a higher demand for blood/plasma products so far in 2021 compared to 2020. Thankfully, while it is an increased demand it is not outside of our normal scope and there are no impacts to patient care at this time. This continues to be an ever-changing situation and we continue to monitor our blood supply closely.”
According to the Red Cross, more than 1,000 additional blood donations are needed each day to meet the increase in demand as hospitals respond to an abnormally high number of traumas and emergency room visits, organ transplants and elective surgeries.
Donors of all blood types, especially type O and those giving platelets, are urged to make an appointment to give now.