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Multiple factors put South Texas blood supply at risk, doctors say

A growing population, pent-up demand for surgeries and busy trauma centers have combined to create a blood shortage in South Texas, San Antonio doctors told a news conference Wednesday at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center Donor Pavilion. 

Orders for blood are up 20% from a year ago, as the summer season – a typically slow one for blood donations – begins in earnest. Although the blood center saw a slight increase in blood donations last year, despite the pandemic, the 20% increase in demand is greatly outpacing the 2% growth in donations.   

“The need for blood never stops,” said Dr. Joyce G. Schwartz, Medical Director of the blood bank at Methodist Hospital. “We need the public’s help to avoid a critical shortage this summer.” 

Dr. Donald Jenkins, trauma surgeon at University Hospital and a professor of surgery at UT Health, said a combination of factors have led to the booming need for blood donations. 

While hospitalizations for COVID-19 have declined this year, beds at local hospitals remain full, he said. 

“And when there are more hospitalizations, there is more of a need for transfusions,” Dr. Jenkins said. 

A blood transfusion is the most commonly performed procedure in U.S. hospitals, said Elizabeth Waltman, Chief Operating Officer, South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. Twelve percent of all procedures in hospitals are transfusions; vaccinations are a distant second at 7%, according to a 2011 study. 

Dr. Jenkins said the rising need for medical care is the result of population growth in San Antonio and throughout South Texas as well as an increase in accidents as more people return to the roads. 

“We’re also one of the busiest transplant cities in the world,” he said. “We have many liver and kidney transplants here, and they depend on blood donors.” 

Some surgical procedures were postponed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and those surgeries now are being rescheduled, Dr. Schwartz said. 

“We’re continuing to see increases in the need for blood after the COVID pandemic,” she said. 

With the current shortage, the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center is working with area hospitals to evaluate virtually every order for blood, said Dr. Samantha Gomez Ngamsuntikul, Associate Medical Director for the blood center. 

“It’s painfully clear that because the demand for blood is outpacing the increase we’ve seen in donations, we are unable to complete all of the orders we are receiving from hospitals,” she said. “We’re looking to continue triaging blood requests all summer.” 

Members of the public can schedule a donation with the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center by visiting SouthTexasBlood.org or calling 210-731-5590. Donations also can be scheduled at University Hospital by calling 210-358-2912. 

Chart showing facts and demand for blood outpace supply