‘Devastating impact’: San Antonio’s blood bank reports critically low blood supplies as the coronavirus pandemic cuts into donations

Lauren Caruba

After losing thousands of donations this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, San Antonio’s blood bank is reporting critical shortages in blood products that could jeopardize surgeries and the treatment of trauma patients.

The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center, which supplies blood to hospitals across the region, has such low inventories that it can only immediately fulfill about half of hospitals’ orders for Type O blood, which is used for emergency transfusions.

The blood bank has been struggling to maintain an adequate supply of blood since the onset of the pandemic, even after Mayor Ron Nirenberg designated blood donation as an essential activity. Shutdowns and work-from-home policies resulted in the cancellation of hundreds of blood drives at workplaces, schools and college campuses that the center relies on to maintain an adequate supply of blood.

On ExpressNews.com: Blood banks have dealt with shortages before. The coronavirus pandemic is different.

In a statement, the blood center said the pandemic “has had a devastating impact on the community blood supply.”

The organization requires about 500 donations a day to keep its shelves stocked. But it was unable to collect an estimated 7,500 donations this summer, as the coronavirus surged across San Antonio, infecting tens of thousands of residents and killing more than 1,000.

Dr. Leslie Greebon, medical director of transfusion services for University Hospital, one of the city’s two Level 1 trauma centers, said in a statement that the hospital has already had to postpone or cancel some treatments as it waited for orders of blood.

If the shortages continue, the hospital could be forced to cancel more procedures and divert medical or trauma patients to other hospitals.

“All our patients are competing for blood,” Greebon said in the statement, adding that University “would need to focus on those already within our walls.”

Donated blood is used for emergency transfusions after injuries from car crashes, shootings and accidents. Blood is also needed for medical emergencies, including gastrointestinal bleeds and bleeding during childbirth, and for scheduled surgeries, such as organ transplants.

On ExpressNews.com: ‘It’s the best that we’ve got’: San Antonio COVID-19 patients to receive plasma from donors who recovered from the virus

South Texas Blood and Tissue keeps reserves of whole blood and individual components of blood — red blood cells, plasma and platelets — which are also used in the treatment of patients with cancer and other conditions.

Since April, the center has also been collecting donations of blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 for the treatment of actively ill patients.

The blood bank estimates the pandemic will prevent it from collecting 3,500 donations of blood in October and 8,500 donations throughout the fall.

South Texas Blood and Tissue is screening donors for symptoms of COVID and requires appointments for donating during the pandemic. Donors can make an appointment by calling 210-731-5590 or visiting SouthTexasBlood.org.

Donations can also be made at University by calling 210-358-2812 or visiting DonateBloodToday.com.

Lauren Caruba covers health care and medicine in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. To read more from Lauren, become a subscriber. lcaruba@express-news.net | Twitter: @LaurenCaruba

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