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Arkansas facing worsening blood shortage

A donor give blood at the Arkansas Blood Institute
Michael Hibblen
A donor gives blood at the Arkansas Blood Institute location in Little Rock in January.

Several factors are contributing to Arkansas experiencing a shortage of blood. The Arkansas Blood Institute says it has already been challenged by fewer people donating blood since the start of the pandemic more than two years ago. Now, national supply chain issues are exacerbating the problem.

Vital products used in blood donations are in demand. In particular, the nonprofit says plastic bags used to collect double red cells are in short supply.

“Double red cells are important because it allows us to collect the equivalent of two blood donations in one visit from a donor,” said Executive Director Mario Sedlock. “The average donor donates just under twice a year. So, if a person donates double red cells when they come in, just assuming that they donate twice a year, that actually doubles the donation from that donor who does a double red cell procedure.”

Double red cell donations are important in targeting blood types that are usually in short supply like O negative.

Dr. John Armitage, president and CEO of Arkansas Blood Institute, said in a press release that “when we don’t have the specialty bag sets we need to collect these units, we put our stewardship efforts and emergency response capabilities at risk.”

Blood donation rates in the summer are usually low because more than 20% of donations come from high school and college students. With most schools being out for the summer, Sedlock said that’s a significant hit to people who need blood.

“It’s a very challenging time, and it does put a lot of stress on the organization because we take saving lives very seriously," Sedlock said. "We just want to make sure that our hospitals have what they need to take care of the patients and that’s essentially what we’re all about.”

Holidays and severe weather also contribute to supply shortages. However, the Arkansas Blood Institute is working to combat the lack of blood.

It is conducting summer promotions with drives designed to encourage people to give blood. The organization is also working with programs such as Blood Emergency Readiness Corps, a sponsor group for the nonprofit that collects extra units for institutes across the nation that may need an available supply of blood for mass transfusion disasters such as mass shootings.

The Arkansas Blood Institute works closely with more than 40 hospitals, medical facilities, and air ambulances statewide.

The Fourth of July is approaching and with people traveling and going to events, Sedlock said blood collections drop around this time every year. He encourages people to be mindful of blood drives in their area.

Arkansans can make appointments to give blood at arkbi.org or by calling 877-340-8777. It typically takes about an hour to give blood with officials saying every donation saves up to three lives.

Alexandria Brown is a news anchor and reporter for KUAR News. She was previously a Douthit scholar who interned for KUAR News. Alexandria will graduate from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2022 in hopes of being a multimedia reporter.