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Red Cross declares blood emergency
Critical blood shortage impacting local, state hospitals
blood shortage pic
Shown is a Kay Club blood drive at Great Bend High School in April of last year. Now, with the COVID pandemic in year two, the American Red Cross is reporting a blood shortage and has declared a national blood emergency. - photo by Great Bend Tribune file photo

Locations for blood donation can be found at organization websites such as,, or

To volunteer, contact Volunteers in Action of Central Kansas, 620-792-1614.

Below are upcoming local Red Cross blood drives:

• Wednesday, Feb. 16, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. – Advanced Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine, 4801 10th St., Great Bend.

• Monday, Feb. 21, 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. – American Legion, 1011 Kansas Ave., Great Bend.

• Tuesday, Feb. 22, 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. – Prince of Peace Parish Center, 4124 Broadway, Great Bend. 

• Friday, Feb. 25, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. – Barton County Community College Case New Holland Lab, 245 NE 30 Rd., Great Bend.

• Wednesday, March 2, 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. – American Legion, 1011 Kansas Ave., Great Bend.

Some may require advance reservations. Call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or visit to schedule an appointment. 

January marks the 52nd anniversary of National Blood Donor Month, a time to recognize the importance of giving blood. But, this year it comes amid a growing nationwide blood shortage that also threatens health-care serves in the Golden Belt.

In recent weeks, the Red Cross has declared this the worst blood shortage in over a decade, with less than a one-day supply of critical blood types.

The shortage was a topic of the University of Kansas Health System media update Monday morning as panelists included those deeply involved in the crisis. The UKHS operates University of Kansas Health System - Great Bend campus. 

In response, the Red Cross has declared a national blood emergency, said panelist Dr. Matthew Coleman, regional medical director for the Rec Cross Central Plains and Southwest regions including Kansas. “This is a step we haven’t taken before,” he said.

“It’s unlike anything any of us has ever seen before,” he said. “It’s been a challenge from the get-go.”

He said the Red Cross has less than one day’s supply of blood on hand. To put that in prospective, a single car crash victim may need as many as 50 units of blood.

“We’ve been hit hard,” he said. “Any disruption in the supply chain has ripple effects.”

This is across all blood types. It involves all blood products, such as whole blood, platelets and plasma.

The Red Cross uses a color-coded system to denote blood supplies, ranging from the green to yellow to red as the supply dwindles. “We had to add purple to indicate supplies have gone from very low to dangerously low,” Coleman said.

Regional blood shortages affect the whole country, he said. But, the blood shortage is especially hard on rural areas where donations are usually low and health-care facilities are unable to transfer patients to larger hospitals with more plentiful supply.

And although the update was broadcast from Kansas City, Kan., UKHS spokeswoman Jill Chadwick no one is immune. “It’s everywhere.”

While local Red Cross officials have noted success in meeting drive goals, they said more donors are always needed. 

The impact

“These guys, the blood banks and the Red Cross, have done an amazing job over the years of donating blood,” said Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer, The University of Kansas Health System. “We at hospitals got used to ordering blood and getting just what we needed.”

That is not the case now. “What we end up doing now is compromising care.”

He noted that when a patient needs blood, “they are very, very sick.” Even small delays can have serious ramifications.

Red blood cells transport oxygen throughout the body, he said. It is also needed while patient’s bleeding is being stopped.

“It truly is a life-saving therapy,” Stites said. 

There have been limited,regional shortages in the past due to disasters, he said. But, “this is something we’ve never faced.”

The Red Cross has experienced low donor turnout ever since the Delta variant began spreading in August, and that trend continues as the Omicron variant takes over. It also continues to confront issues due to the pandemic, including ongoing blood drive cancellations and staffing limitations. Adding to the concern is the surge of COVID-19 cases.

In the age of COVID, people are fearful of donating blood, Stites said. However, “it’s incredibly safe. We all need to go give blood.”  

Doctors have been forced to make difficult decisions about who receives blood transfusions and who will need to wait until more products become available. Blood and platelet donations are critically needed to help prevent further delays in vital medical treatments.

“While some types of medical care can wait, others can’t,” said Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of the Red Cross. “Hospitals are still seeing accident victims, cancer patients, those with blood disorders like sickle cell disease, and individuals who are seriously ill who all need blood transfusions to live even as Omicron cases surge across the country.”

Supplying 40% of the nation’s blood, the Red Cross has seen a 10% decrease in the number of donations and has had to limit blood distributions to hospitals in recent weeks. In fact, on certain days, some hospitals may not receive as much as one-quarter of the blood products requested.

In addition to a shortage of donors, some places are experiencing a shortage of volunteers to man blood drive sites.

That has not become an issue locally, yet, said Linn Hogg, director of Volunteers in Action of Central Kansas, the Great Bend-based agency that coordinates multiple volunteer efforts for Barton and Pawnee counties.

However, “we are always looking for help,” she said. A lot of their volunteers are seniors and COVID, as well as other ailments, can lead to the needs for backup assistance.

Pleas to donate issued

Meanwhile, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Trauma Program continue to highlight the importance of blood donation amid increasingly critical blood shortages experienced across the state and nation. 

“We encourage Kansans who can donate blood to schedule an appointment today,” Janet Stanek, acting health secretary, said. “Blood donation helps ensure our hospitals can continue their operations and has the ability to save lives.”  

Updated policies and practices allow for safe donation during the pandemic. Donation centers provide specific guidance on the blood donation process and safety measures taken within their centers. The National Institutes of Health have found blood donations to be safe under current COVID-19 screening guidelines. 

“Every community in America needs blood on a daily basis. At a time when many businesses and organizations across the country are experiencing pandemic challenges – the Red Cross is no different. And while we are all learning how to live in this new environment, how we spend our time, where we work, how we give back, how we make a difference in the lives of others – donating blood must continue to be part of it,” added Dr. Young.

“All types are needed now, especially types O positive and O negative, as well as platelet donations, to help reverse this national blood crisis,” he said. “If there is not an immediate opportunity available to donate, donors are asked to make an appointment in the days and weeks ahead to ensure the Red Cross can replenish and maintain a sufficient blood supply.”