Blood providers call for donors amid first national blood crisis

As he has for the past 45 years, Richard O’Connor, 63, donates blood at a Vitalant donation center in Tempe on Jan. 26. “I think as a member of society, it’s your civic duty – it’s your ethical duty – to donate,” he says. “My parents taught me way back in high school that it’s an honorable thing.” (Photo by Genesis Alvarado/Cronkite News)

John Pagalunan uses an expresser to separate red cells into a bag inside Vitalant’s Tempe blood donation center. The device relies on gravity to separate components. (Photo by Genesis Alvarado/Cronkite News)

Empty blood bags and collection tubes sit in piles on a table in a Vitalant blood donation center in Tempe. (Photo by Genesis Alvarado/Cronkite News)

The nation is facing one of the worst blood supply shortages in years, according to the American Red Cross. Donation centers like this one, run by Arizona nonprofit Vitalant, are putting out desperate calls for donors. (Photo by Genesis Alvarado/Cronkite News)

Stephanie Tsosie prepares bags of donated blood for a centrifuge inside a Vitalant donation center in Tempe. The centrifuge spins the packets and separates red blood cells from platelets and plasma. (Photo by Genesis Alvarado/Cronkite News)

Inside the packaging room at Vitalant’s donation center in Tempe, orders for blood are displayed on monitors and color-coded according to urgency. Red means blood is urgently needed, yellow means important and green means standard shipment. (Photo by Genesis Alvarado/Cronkite News)

Blood bags are stored inside a refrigerator, which stays 39 to 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Platelets are left at room temperature, and plasma is frozen. The blood bags are divided according to type to help simplify shipping. (Photo by Genesis Alvarado/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Amid what the American Red Cross is calling the worst blood shortage in over a decade, blood providers are issuing urgent calls for volunteers to come forward to donate.

“Right now, with as low as blood supplies are, with a daily need of 600 donors to fill the needs of 62 hospitals, we need donors of all blood types,” said Sue Thew, communications manager for Vitalant, a Scottsdale nonprofit that provides blood to 900 hospitals across the U.S., including 62 in Arizona.

In January, the American Red Cross declared its first national blood crisis, noting the number of people donating had dipped 10% since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. COVID-19 case surges due to the delta and omicron variants also have kept donors away.

(Story by Kirsten Dorman/Cronkite News)

In Arizona, school and business closures have forced thousands of blood drive cancellations, and blood drives remain 33% below prepandemic levels, Vitalant said.

Type O blood, which can be substituted for other types in emergency and trauma situations, is especially needed. The Red Cross, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies also are urging more people of color to donate to help fight conditions like sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder that disproportionately affects African Americans.


“African American blood donors are vital for many patients with rare blood types, like those with sickle cell disease, who depend on blood that must be matched very closely … to reduce the risk of complications,” the Red Cross notes on its website.

Platelet donations are also desperately needed. Almost half these donations are used for cancer treatments. Platelets help blood to clot; without transfusions, cancer patients may experience life-threatening bleeding.

With patients and hospitals having to reschedule surgeries that were postponed during the holidays or previous COVID-19 surges, blood use is skyrocketing.

“While some types of medical care can wait, others can’t,” Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of the Red Cross, said in a statement last month. “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.”

(Video by Anna Stansfield/Cronkite News)

“We’re doing everything we can to increase blood donations to ensure every patient can receive medical treatments without delay, but we cannot do it without more donors. We need the help of the American people.”

One recent day at a Vitalant donor center in Tempe, Richard O’Connor was one of only a few people donating, as he’s done for the past 45 years.

“I think as a member of society, it’s your civic duty – it’s your ethical duty – to donate,” he said. “My parents taught me way back in high school that it’s an honorable thing, and to do it while you can.”

To schedule an appointment to donate, visit redcross.org or vitalant.org.

Cronkite News reporter Anna Stansfield contributed to this report.

Jenna Sauter J-EH-NAH SOT-TER (she/her)
News Reporter, Phoenix

Jenna Sauter expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. Sauter, who has interned with the Chandler Chamber of Commerce and Phoenix Magazine, is working for the Phoenix news bureau.

Anna Stansfield AN-nuh STANZ-feeld (she/her/hers)
News Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Anna Stansfield expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications and a certificate in sales and marketing. Stansfield is working for the Phoenix news bureau.

Kirsten Dorman Ker-stin Door-man (she/her or they/them)
News Reporter, Phoenix

Kirsten Dorman expects to graduate in December 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communcations. Dorman, who is the production director at Blaze Radio and a podcast reporter for The State Press, is working for Phoenix news bureau.

Genesis Alvarado Jeh-nuh-suhs Aal-vr-aa-dow (he/him)
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Genesis Alvarado expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication. Alvarado, who was a photojournalist for The Arizona Western Voice in Yuma, is working for the Phoenix news bureau.

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