Baltimore area blood banks are in the red, so to speak.
If the area blood supply continues to dry up, some hospitals may have to cancel certain elective surgeries, says a Red Cross official.
"What we have is a very precarious situation," Diane Russell, the official, said yesterday. "We would not want to be in a situation where blood wasn't there" for those who need it.
Russell is administrator of hospital services for the American Red Cross' Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Regional Blood Services.
The region stretches from southern Pennsylvania to northern Virginia, and from Frederick to Chesapeake Bay.
Blood collected throughout the region is sent to the regional headquarters, in Baltimore's Seton Industrial Park in the 4700 block of Mount Hope Drive. There, it is tested and processed before shipment to 80 participating hospitals.
The blood supply is the lowest in two years, said Linda Klein, a Red Cross spokeswoman.
This week, the Red Cross blood center in Baltimore is short 800 units, or pints.
Next week, officials predict, it will be short 600 units and then for the Labor Day week, traditionally the slowest donor period, the projected shortage jumps to 2,000 units. At least 5,600 units of blood will be needed for Labor Day week, Russell said.
"We could get into trouble" if a major disaster strikes, Russell said.
The Red Cross has made it a priority to supply blood for emergencies to the 80 regional hospitals that rely on its bank, Russell said. When hospitals call for blood, the center asks why they need it, she said.
"We have on the shelves at the blood center less than one day's supply," Russell said. "We need 1,500 units a day to support the community."
Usually, of the 1,500 units of blood donated daily, the center actually receives 1,300 good units because some donors may have colds or other illnesses and their blood has to be discarded, Russell said.
Hospitals, which often stock their own blood supplies, haven't reported any critical situations.
"We are experiencing a shortage, particularly in our inventory of type O-positive and O-negative," said Joan Shnipper, a spokeswoman for the University of Maryland Medical Center. "It is lower than usual."
"Fortunately," Shnipper said, "the demand hasn't put us in a crisis situation."
If necessary, the hospital will hold its own blood drive, Shnipper said.
Normally, summer is when fewer donations are made because of vacations and school closures, said Klein, of the Red Cross. But this summer is worse than recent ones.
The soft economy has hurt the blood supply across the country. Layoffs have meant fewer workers are around to donate blood at company blood drives. Those who stayed have been too busy working, Klein said.
"More than half of our blood is collected from the workplace," Klein said.
Another factor is the end of the Persian Gulf War. People had donated blood to support the troops but they stopped once the war ended, Russell said. "They say, 'I already gave once.' "
The most-needed blood types in the Baltimore region are O and B, Shnipper said.
O is needed because it's a universal type -- anyone can accept transfusions of it -- and demographics of the Baltimore-Washington area show B is in demand, Klein said.
Nevertheless, there were only 82 units of O-positive and 42 units of O-negative stocked at the blood center. The Red Cross projects it needs 435 units of O-positive and 90 units of O-negative each day.
To help cope with the shortage, the local Red Cross three weeks ago began accepting 110 units of blood weekly from the National Red Cross in Germany, Russell said.
Locally, the Red Cross has begun "tele-recruiting" -- calling up previous donors and asking them to donate again, and sponsoring radio and television ads.
Russell said it's necessary to get the message out to the public: Giving blood "really is a life-saving gift."
To give blood, call the Red Cross at 1-800-272-0024.