Few donors have returned to blood centers in wake of COVID-19 pandemic. Here's what it means for Kansas hospitals

Tim Hrenchir
Topeka Capital-Journal

Eastern Kansas and western Missouri are facing a "blood emergency," the Community Blood Center of Greater Kansas City announced Wednesday.

That Kansas City, Mo.-based nonprofit organization asked the public to donate blood to help replenish its supply, which it said was only sufficient to last three days. 

Things were looking "a little bit grim" in terms of the lack of blood donations being made to the donor center the CBC operates in southwest Topeka, said Chelsey Smith, the CBC's outreach and communications coordinator.

The Topeka donor center provided The Capital-Journal photos Wednesday of empty waiting rooms and empty shelves illustrating its dearth of donations.

The situation is similar at the six other centers operated by the CBC, Smith said.

The blood shortage was triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the CBC.

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Blood donors not returning

Smith said that while figures weren't available for specific locations, about 25,000 people who had been blood donors prior to the pandemic had not yet returned to donate in the Greater Kansas City area alone.

Meanwhile, Smith said, the CBC was seeing virtually no first-time donors among youths, while the number of blood drives being held had been reduced by hundreds.

"Complicating matters, there has been a recent surge in blood usage as hospitals perform surgeries and patients seek medical care that was postponed during the pandemic," the CBC said. "The increased need and lag in donors has created a chronic gap in blood donations."

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Community Blood Centers accepts donations at 7 sites

Patsy Shipley, the CBC's senior director of donor recruitment and collections, said the blood emergency announcement was part of a media campaign it was conducting aimed at raising awareness and encouraging lapsed donors who had not donated since before COVID-19 to return.

The campaign also seeks to attract "the next generation of blood donors to help us build a healthy blood supply," Shipley said.

The CBC accepts blood donations at its Topeka donor center at 6220 S.W. 29th and one location each in Olathe, Overland Park, Kansas City, Mo., Blue Springs, Mo., Gladstone, Mo., and St. Joseph, Mo. 

Donations may be made from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at the Topeka center, Smith said.

Donors may schedule appointments at any CBC center by calling 1-877-468-6844 or visiting www.savealifenow.org.

Smith added that blood drives are set to take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, June 17, at Topeka ER & Hospital, 6135 S.W. 17th; from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, June 19, at Christ the King Catholic Church, 5973 S.W. 25th; and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, June 21, at Our Savior's Lutheran Church, 2021 S.W. 29th.

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Other parts of Kansas also seeing a shortage

Other parts of Kansas are also seeing a lack of availability of donated blood, said Brittney Rochell, chief communications officer for the American Red Cross for Kansas and Oklahoma.

The American Red Cross operates blood donation centers in Kansas at Wichita, Salina and Hays.

"The Red Cross currently has an emergency need for platelets and Type O blood  donors, as the hospital demand for these blood products continues to outpace the donations," Rochell told The Capital-Journal.

She added that the American Red Cross and the American Cancer Society are teaming up to encourage blood donations through a partnership called "Give Blood to Give Time."

More information about that program can be found on its website at www.givebloodtogivetime.org.

"Cancer patients use nearly 1/4 of the blood supply — more than patients fighting any other disease — but only 3% of Americans donate blood in a given year," that site says.

Donating blood is safe and only takes one hour, according to the Community Blood Center.

The CBC is taking extra precautions to help prevent the person-to-person spread of COVID-19, with CBC staff practicing health self-assessments in advance.

People aren't eligible to donate if they’re experiencing a cold, sore throat, respiratory infection or flu-like symptoms, the release said.

Further information about requirements people must meet in order to donate may be found on the CBC website.