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Donors needed to stave off a growing blood shortage in upper Midwest

WILLMAR -- Red Cross officials are urging eligible donors to give blood and help stave off a shortage developing this summer across the region.

As of Friday, North Central Blood Services was 682 units short of its commitment to the hospitals it serves, said Dave Kelley, donor recruitment representative for central Minnesota.

The blood bank, which normally has a 10-day supply on hand, had fallen to a two- or three-day cushion, he said.

Compared to a year ago, blood donations in the region are down overall. The Red Cross said Thursday that its inventory contains half the amount of readily available blood as it did a year ago.

Types O negative and positive, A negative and B negative are in the shortest supply.

Blood will still be available for patients who need it, Kelley emphasized. Shortages are made up by shipping blood from other regions of the United States where the supply is more plentiful.

But the bank needs to be replenished, which means donors must step forward and give, Kelley said. "We need to make that up somewhere."

North Central Blood Services is the main supplier of blood to 140 hospitals in the Upper Midwest. Donated blood is used for patients in any number of critical situations, from surgery to cancer treatment to severe trauma.

The need tends to rise in the summer months, when trauma-related injuries are more common. Historically, though, summer is a more difficult time for the Red Cross to collect blood.

Blood drives at schools account for almost 20 percent of donations, Kelley said. Ridgewater College, for instance, hosts the largest college-based, single-day blood drive in Minnesota.

"The high schools have done a great job supporting the blood drives," Kelley said.

But once school is out of session, the Red Cross must turn elsewhere to ensure the blood supply keeps up with demand.

Getting donations during the summer is often difficult, Kelley said. "It's a busy time of year -- people are taking vacations and traveling. Donating blood is not in the forefront of their minds."

To spur donations this summer, the Red Cross has added some incentives. Between now and Sept. 5, donors who give blood will have a chance to win a $5,000 gift certificate and prizes such as shopping sprees, vacation getaways and gift cards.

Organizers of community drives also are raffling off gift cards, serving root beer floats and offering other rewards to encourage donors to come through the doors.

Only about 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to give blood -- and only 8 to 10 percent actually do so on a regular basis, Kelley said.

Restrictions have eased, allowing more people to give. In Minnesota, 16-year-olds can now donate blood, as long as they have permission in writing from a parent.

Earlier this year, Minnesota also lifted its tattoo restriction. Individuals who had received a tattoo used to have a one-year waiting period before being allowed to donate blood, primarily to prevent the spread of disease through reused needles and ink. Now that the state requires tattoo artists to be licensed, the waiting period has been eliminated.

It's expected to result in about 1,000 more blood donations across the state. "I think it'll help our donations," Kelley said.

Area residents will have several chances in upcoming weeks to donate at community blood drives.

The bloodmobile schedule is as follows:

June 25, Montevideo: 12:30 to 6:30 p.m., Training And Community Center.

June 26, Maynard: 2:30 to 6:30 p.m., Community Center.

June 27, Atwater: 1 to 7 p.m., Civic Center.

June 27, Clara City: 2 to 7 p.m., Community Center.

July 2, Paynesville: noon to 6 p.m., Paynesville Lutheran Church.

Register online at or call 1-800-RED-CROSS to make an appointment to give blood.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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