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Demand trumps supply

Blood supplies slightly below the norm at Washington County Hospital

Blood supplies slightly below the norm at Washington County Hospital

October 05, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

o Click here to see a list of upcoming blood drives in the Tri-State area

Since July, the Washington County chapter of the American Red Cross has collected enough blood to fill five small bathtubs - still less than what it had time last year, despite a growing demand for blood.

"Collections have been down from the last year," said Julie M. Barr-Strasburg, executive director of the Washington County chapter of the American Red Cross.

The local Red Cross has been working toward its goal of collecting 9,321 pints, or what the Red Cross often refers to as units, between July 2009 and June 2010. According to figures Barr-Strasburg provided, the local chapter has collected 1,682 pints of blood as of Sept. 23 - less than the 1,866 pints it collected this time last year.

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But demand for blood has been on the rise, said Kathy McCartney, technical specialist of transfusion services at Washington County Hospital. Whole blood contains several components, including platelets (which help with clotting), red blood cells (which carry oxygen) and plasma (the fluid part of blood). These components - called products by health care professionals - are sometimes separated before giving them to patients.

In August alone, the hospital used 620 units of red blood cells and 104 units of plasma, McCartney said, who added that on average, the hospital's blood bank handles 60 blood specimens each day.

"I think the area is growing," said McCartney. She said people, such as cancer patients, who need routine transfusions, are living longer and are also helping boost the demand for blood at Washington County Hospital.

McCartney said the hospital isn't currently facing a shortage, but there have been shortages in the past. During these times, the hospital borrowed blood from other hospitals. McCartney said that in a worst-case scenario, a blood shortage might mean cutting back on performing elective surgeries.

As with other local hospitals, Washington County Hospital relies on blood from the American Red Cross's Johnstown, Pa.-based Greater Alleghenies Blood Services Region, which serves parts of Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland, said regional spokeswoman Marianne Spampinato.

The American Red Cross has a fixed donor site in Hagerstown off Conrad Court and is part of the Greater Alleghenies region, Barr-Strasburg said.

The Red Cross refers to blood donation as giving the "gift of life." McCartney said a single unit of blood from one person can make a difference to several patients.

McCartney said people who need blood are getting it from a single donor, which reduces the risk of infectious disease and the risk that a patient's body will reject the blood.

Nationally, the Red Cross distributes 20,000 units of blood each weekday and another 20,000 units of blood on weekends to meet patient needs, said Stephanie Millian, spokeswoman of biomedical communications for the American Red Cross National Headquarters, in Washington D.C.

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