Aging donors and a lack of younger ones have caused a chronic blood shortage in Erie County.
The Community Blood Bank enjoyed a relatively rare event Friday afternoon.
A pair of 21-year-olds, Hosanna Senz and Allyson Bonnoni, arrived at the Erie blood bank to each donate a pint of blood. The LECOM School of Pharmacy students and veteran blood donors were joined by classmate Melissa Zhang, 24.
“I saw the blood bank had a critical blood shortage, so I started asking people at school if they would donate,” said Zhang, who is a regular blood donor but couldn’t give blood on Friday. “I was able to convince Hosanna and Allyson.”
Young donors like Senz and Bonnoni are becoming more scarce at the Community Blood Bank and other blood banks across the country.
Community Blood Bank’s number of blood donors has declined by 18 percent since 2017 and the number of new donors has dropped by 35 percent.
“It’s about how we can get the younger people to donate,” CBB Executive Director Deanna Renaud said. “They aren’t donating like their predecessors did. The majority of our donors are 55 and older.”
People can donate blood at any age, but those 80 and older need a physician’s clearance, Renaud said.
The truth is that older people often stop donating because of health issues or difficulty traveling to a blood bank or blood drive. Also, many businesses that used to host blood drives have closed or reduced their workforces.
“Some people stop donating simply because they become blood recipients,” Renaud said. “That’s why we need younger donors to fill the gap.”
Otherwise, the Community Blood Bank will continue to experience nearly constant blood shortages like it has seen for the past several years.
The blood bank supplies blood products to 21 hospitals – including all Erie County hospitals – and seven Stat MedEvac bases in northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York state.
“We are in a state of emergency need most days for at least some blood types,” Renaud said. “Our optimal level is to have a five-day supply and we usually have less than a three-day supply of blood.”
The situation is similar at blood banks around the country, said Jenny Ficenec, senior vice president of plasma and business development at the Blood Centers of America.
“We are seeing regional shortages similar to what you’re seeing in Erie and nationally the blood supply is getting tighter,” Ficenec said.
The shortages haven’t reached a point where Erie hospitals have to postpone elective surgeries, Renaud said.
That’s partly because of blood banks’ improved methods of collecting blood. Donors can now give whole blood, plasma, platelets or double red cells, where twice the usual amount of red cells is collected at one time.
Another reason is that hospitals use less blood per surgery than they did a few years ago, thanks to less-invasive techniques and improved ways to reuse a patient’s own blood.
“The challenge remains the big trauma cases when a patient requires a massive blood transfusion,” said Jim Donnelly, R.N., UPMC Hamot’s chief nursing officer and chief quality officer. “One patient with massive injuries can go through a dozen units of blood.”
In order to prevent crippling blood shortages in the future, Renaud said blood banks must convince more young people to donate.
The Community Blood Bank has seen a 40 percent decline in donations from people 24 and younger in recent years, Renaud said.
“Everyone is chasing this group,” Renaud said. “There are a lot of ways to be charitable that don’t require them to give blood. So we have to come up with a way to reach younger people and convince them of the importance of giving blood.”
No one needs to convince Senz, Bonnoni and Zhang about the importance of giving blood. The LECOM School of Pharmacy students have been donors since they were in high school.
“I was 16 when I first donated,” said Senz, a Warren native, as she donated a pint Friday. “The Community Blood Bank came to my school. I got out of class, ate some good food and helped somebody. It wasn’t too bad.”
In early 2020, the Community Blood Bank will change its advertising methods to better target younger people. It will have a stronger presence on social media, including YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook.
“We also always went with a message designed to appeal to people’s heartstrings,” Renaud said. “Our new approach will be to tailor different messages for each audience.”
A lot is riding on the Community Blood Bank’s ability to recruit young donors.
“In another 10 years, 20 percent of our population will be 65 and older,” Renaud said. “They will need more procedures and health-care needs. Fewer of them will be able to donate themselves and more of them will need blood transfusions.
“We have to solve this.”
David Bruce can be reached at 870-1736 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ETNbruce.