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Omaha hospitals facing limited blood supply amid nationwide shortage

The Nebraska Blood Bank is working to mitigate their blood supply, mindful that there is a nationwide blood shortage.
Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 11:45 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Earlier this month, the American Red Cross issued a national blood shortage crisis, and the Nebraska Community Blood Bank says it’s facing the same issues, and have been for months.

NCBB and Omaha hospitals warn that if people don’t continue to donate, it could impact patients in local hospitals who need life-saving care.

In some places, the blood shortage is so severe that elective surgeries have been canceled.

“I worry,” says Aleh Bobr, the Medical Director of Nebraska Medicine’s blood bank, which is supplied by NCBB. “We’re getting by, we’re trying to minimize the amount we use, tweak things here and there keeping the smaller inventory on the shelves right now, we’re getting by so far but it’s possible that you know in the future we might get hit with the shortage.”

For the past 21 months, NCBB says they’ve struggled to keep a stable supply of blood on their shelves.

“We are still able to perform the surgeries we need, you know. We have limited supply, but we’re kind of getting by,” Bobr adds.

NCBB also supplies blood to Methodist Women’s, Children’s, and Bryan Health in Lincoln. Methodist tells 6 News they too are monitoring the supply but remain stable for now.

CHI Health hospitals are supplied by LifeServe, which is based in Des Moines, Iowa. A spokeswoman for the hospital says they’re also keeping an eye on the shortages, but have been able to meet their needs thus far.

Throughout the pandemic, blood drives have faced cancelations, and the number of first-time donors has significantly decreased.

Kari Lundeen with NCBB says it currently has a three-day supply of blood on their shelves, but for blood types like O- and O+, they only have a one to two-day supply.

The blood bank typically likes to keep at least a week’s worth of blood on hand, which means they need to average about 1,000 donors weekly.

“So what does it mean?” says Bobr. “If we don’t get new donors, donors [don’t] come in for three days, we get a shortage.”

While they’ve been able to continue with elective surgeries, canceling them like other systems across the country could be a possibility here if donations don’t remain steady.

“It’s close, you know normally we’ll have a week or longer than a week of supply on the shelf. We have two to three days. We’re managing, but it’s getting close.”

Bobr says June of 2020 was when they’d come closest to having to close down surgeries due to lack of blood.

“(From) March ‘til mid-May, most elective surgeries in most hospitals were postponed, so mid-May when the infectious protocols were developed and elective surgeries resumed, the challenge was that blood drives did not increase,” he says. “That was really a severe crunch between supply and demand, because the surgeries opened up but the supply hasn’t resumed so that’s when were very low.”

Bobr says a similar situation in the metro is forming once again thanks to the rise in COVID-19 cases.

And a shortage of blood at the hospital means cancer patients, transplant patients, emergency surgeries and more can’t get what’s necessary to help them survive.

So while hospitals are managing with a limited supply of blood at the moment, they remind people that donating could quite literally save your neighbor’s life.

“I want to thank people who doing it, because blood donation is a voluntary process, people are not remunerated for donating blood, and this is just out of goodness of their heart,” Bobr says.

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