Technology, dwindling need bring changes to blood drives

More targeted collections lead to cuts in staff

Chris Page donated blood at a recent drive in Indianapolis. He said he used to donate blood more regularly, but had not done so for a while. ‘‘There’s always a need,” he said.
Michael Conroy/Associated Press/file
Chris Page donated blood at a recent drive in Indianapolis. He said he used to donate blood more regularly, but had not done so for a while. ‘‘There’s always a need,” he said.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Blood banks are declaring fewer critical shortages these days and in some cases trimming staff in response to dwindling demand for blood — the result of fewer elective surgeries being performed and medical advances that curb bleeding in the operating room.

The nation’s blood-collection system has undergone a dramatic change from just a decade ago, when agencies that oversee the blood supply worried whether they could keep up with the needs of an aging population.

Now blood banks are making fewer but more targeted appeals for donations and reducing the size of their operations.


Blood centers shifted from a collect-as-much-as-you-can mentality to a collect-to-need mentality, said Dr. Darrell Triulzi, medical director for the Institute for Transfusion Medicine in Pittsburgh and a former president of AABB, formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks.

Get Ground Game in your inbox:
Daily updates and analysis on national politics from James Pindell.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

‘‘They started collecting only what they needed,” Triulzi said. “That’s new to the industry. We’re still learning how to do that well.’’

Job cuts have been a part of the process.

The Indiana Blood Center announced in June that it would eliminate 45 positions in a restructuring that also involved reducing its mobile operations, closing a donor center, and cutting other costs because demand from hospitals had fallen 24 percent from the previous year.

The Community Blood Center of the Ozarks in Springfield, Mo., announced in March that it was cutting staff by nearly 18 percent. Blood centers in Florida, West Virginia, and Connecticut have taken similar steps.


The blood-collection system began changing dramatically with the recession, when Americans who had lost their jobs and health insurance put off noncritical procedures. But the need for blood is still falling even as the economy recovers. Demand dropped by 8.2 percent from 2008 to 2011 and continues to drop, according to a report by the AABB.

Contributing to the decline are blood-management programs, which include collecting blood lost during an operation and returning it to the patient, maximizing hemoglobin levels to prevent anemia, and using medications to reduce bleeding during surgery.

Blood-management programs have been around for more than a decade but have started catching on in larger numbers only in recent years, Triulzi said. The AABB surveyed hospitals and blood centers about blood-management programs in 2011 and found nearly a third of hospitals surveyed had started such programs.

Advances in surgical methods, including laparoscopic techniques that use small ‘‘keyhole’’ incisions, have also curbed the need for blood.

Experts say that does not mean there is a blood glut, but there are fewer times when blood banks declare shortages and issue urgent pleas for donations, which were once commonplace.


Instead, blood centers have altered their approach, holding fewer drives and often targeting people with specific blood types. Some are even offering gas cards, T-shirts, or the chance to win tickets to NFL football games as incentives.

The South Bend Medical Foundation in Mishawaka flashed a message to passing motorists in August, offering those with type O blood a $10 gas card if they donated.

Donors at a recent blood-collection drive in Indianapolis say they do not plan to change their habits.

Chris Page, a 53-year-old military liaison for a job-placement company, said he used to contribute regularly but had not done so in a while. He decided to donate again after learning of a blood drive in his office building.

‘‘There’s always a need, and it’s something that’s replenishable,’’ he said.