Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

SPOTLIGHT: DC Area Faces Emergency Blood Shortage

The American Red Cross, headquartered in Washington, D.C., declared a nationwide emergency blood shortage on Jan. 7, urging all eligible people to donate.

In the D.C. area, the nationwide shortage has spurred local health organizations to amplify the Red Cross call for blood donations. Stephanie Babyak, spokesperson for the American Red Cross National Capital and Greater Chesapeake Region, said low donation levels have created serious challenges for local hospital systems.

“The Red Cross is experiencing a blood supply shortage as we face the lowest number of people giving blood in the past 20 years. Blood products are going out faster to hospitals than blood donations are coming in,” Babyak told The Hoya.

Health care workers use blood donations on a daily basis to support organ donor recipients, cancer patients, people with blood disorders like sickle cell anemia and trauma patients who lose blood from injuries, among others. Blood cannot be manufactured, meaning that all donations must come from volunteers. 

Without proper supplies of blood, life-saving procedures that require blood transfusions, such as heart and vascular surgeries, could be postponed. Babyak said that for patients depending on donated blood, the ongoing shortage poses incredible stress.

“If you’re that person who needs the blood, that’s a dramatic consequence for you and for your family,” Babyak said. 

According to Dr. Ranit Mishori, vice president and chief public health officer at Georgetown University, the blood shortage also jeopardizes hospitals’ abilities to respond to public emergencies. 

“You want to have enough supplies, not just for patients that come regularly and routinely, but in the event of some sort of catastrophic event: emergency situations like mass casualty events, a terrorist attack, or people being injured by car crashes,” Mishori told The Hoya.

Nicholas Lilly, senior director of Inova Blood Donor Services in the D.C. area, said that while many factors have slowed blood donations — which, according to the Red Cross, have fallen 40% in the last 20 years — seasonal illness may also have exacerbated the current shortage. To alleviate the crisis, hospitals and blood donor organizations are encouraging all healthy, eligible donors in D.C., Maryland and Virginia to donate as soon as possible. 

“Blood can only be collected from healthy volunteer donors, and we need the community’s support to sustain the needs of our patients,” Lilly wrote in an email to The Hoya. 

Mishori explained that most healthy adults are eligible to donate blood, and the process of donation is brief and simple. Usually, donors can return to their daily activities shortly after making their donation. 

“It’s not a huge time investment. The actual donation takes maybe 10, 15 minutes at most,” Mishori said. “They will have to spend some time answering questions about their health, what medications they’re taking and about travel history.” 

ILLUSTRATION BY: KATHRYN SCHWEICKERT/THE HOYA | The American Red Cross declared a nationwide blood shortage on Jan. 7, leading local hospital systems to call for increased donations in the face of critically low blood supplies.

According to Babyak, college students are a particularly important demographic group for blood donations. 

“For college students especially, we really appreciate young donors because then they tend to remain active and donate throughout their lives,” Babyak said. 

Babyak said that those who cannot donate blood can support the effort by helping the Red Cross organize blood drives. 

“People can volunteer with us as a blood donor ambassador,” Babyak said. “We have a vast array of volunteers and we try to work with folks to match their skills and interests.” 

In D.C., individuals can donate blood at the Dr. Charles Drew Red Cross Blood and Platelet Donation Center in Foggy Bottom or Children’s National Hospital in Shaw.

Mishori also noted that Georgetown University’s public health team is in the early stages of organizing an on-campus blood drive that will take place in the upcoming weeks.    

According to Mishori, the next few months will be an especially vital time for community members to meet the ongoing blood shortage, though regular blood donations are always needed across the DMV. 

“I think it’s a really important way to give back to the community that is not dangerous and has extremely little risk,” Mishori said. “You’re just helping enormously, especially now when there’s such a big shortage, but also during times when there is no shortage, the health system always, always, always needs more blood.” 

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