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'We're on pins and needles' | Triad hospitals days away from running out of blood for patients

Novant Health says their blood supply is strained and is seeing a critical shortage in inventory.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Hospitals nationwide are just days away from running out of blood.

The low supply is impacting already stressed hospitals and prompted the American Red Cross to declare its first-ever national blood supply crisis.

This impacts hospitals and blood centers in the Triad.

The Greensboro blood donation center accepts blood seven days a week.

Yet 75% of donation appointments are not filled, across the entire greater Carolinas region.

Dr. Patrick Wilson with Novant Health said the lack of inventory has him on pins and needles.

“When inventory goes down, we become less confident in our ability to ensure we can take care of all patients when they need that blood,” Dr. Wilson said. “We’re very uncomfortable right now. Novant is no different than any other health system in the country.”

The American Red Cross is the primary blood supplier for Novant's hospitals.

In recent weeks, the Red Cross had less than a one-day supply.

Dr. Wilson manages Novant’s blood lab. He said he must now monitor their supply daily to make sure they have enough to treat patients.

“Right now, we’ve not had to significantly alter patient care,” Dr. Wilson said. "So this morning, I know what I have for today’s patients. I don’t necessarily know what I’ll have for tomorrow's patients.”

Dr. Wilson said all it takes is one unplanned event for them to have to make tough decisions on who can receive blood and who has to wait.

"One car accident, one patient involved in an accident could match what my daily inventory is for blood supplies for that particular blood type," Dr. Wilson said. “If something like that were to happen that could impact patients later in the day or the next day.”

 Although Novant's supply is strained their spokesperson said they are able to effectively manage throughout this shortage and provide care to patients.

The spokesperson added, "there are practices in place to effectively manage both expected and unexpected blood shortages. This includes the coordination of inventory among our facilities in addition to policies outlining the appropriate use of blood products."

Blood supply is already low during the winter months, and COVID compounds the loss in inventory, particularly with recent surging cases. 

The Red Cross said the pandemic has contributed to a 62% drop in blood drives at schools and colleges.

The blood donations that hospitals usually get can't be ordered or purchased on the market - they must come from the community.

Only about 35% of the population is eligible to give blood, in the best of times.

According to Novant, of that percentage, only 3% donate on a regular basis.

To help keep hospitals from needing to alter patient care, sign up for an appointment to give blood through the Red Cross online or give them a call at 1-800-Red-Cross.

The Greensboro Science Center is partnering with the Red Cross and hosting a blood drive on Feb. 9 from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.