Response to the American Red Cross's public appeal last week for blood donors has exceeded expectations, but there is still a shortage of type O and type B blood and many Orange County hospitals are now beginning to feel the pinch, officials said Monday.
"The situation has improved a little bit, but we're not out of the woods yet," said Dr. Benjamin Spindler, medical director of blood services for the Red Cross chapter in Orange County.
"Most of the hospitals are still quite low, about 50% below normal for some blood types," Spindler said Monday. "Supplies of (type) O positive are quite a bit below 50% (of normal)."
"If we have not resupplied them, then they are running very low," Spindler said. "They (hospitals) did have essentially a half-day supply as far as I can see. There really is very little buffer at all."
Large hospitals with trauma centers generally carry additional supplies to equip them for emergencies that involve massive bleeding. But several surveyed Monday said that buffer is shrinking.
O Positive Most Common "We have been really short of (type) O positive," said Nancy Cabral, medical technologist at the UCI Medical Center blood bank in Orange. "The Red Cross is just releasing units to us as we need them," Cabral said.
At Western Medical Center, supplies of O positive, which is the most common blood type, dipped to seven units a few days ago. "That's way below what we're supposed to have," said Wylen Won, blood bank supervisor for the Santa Ana hospital and trauma center. "Today, we have 14 units of (type) O positive on hand, plus our trauma (center) stock. That's still a little low."
"Luckily we have had a low surgery schedule and we did not have a lot of trauma cases," Won said. "One serious gunshot wound or knifing in a vital area could use up those units in a matter of minutes, a half hour or hour. With elective surgeries, normally it's not a trauma situation, and you have a lot more control."
At St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, blood bank director Dr. James R. Thompson said, "It seems to be getting a little bit tighter. But we are still able to make it. We haven't had to cancel any surgeries."
Last week, however, Thompson said one patient requiring a rare blood type had to be given another compatible type because of the shortage.
"We have less of a cushion than we did last week, and I don't know how long it's going to be going on," said Thompson, whose blood bank serves both St. Joseph's and Childrens Hospital of Orange County, which together use more blood and blood products than any other hospital in the area.
Smaller hospitals were apparently faring worse, although there were no reports of surgeries canceled or postponed because of the current shortage, hospital and Red Cross officials said.
Tustin Community Hospital had less than one third of its normal supplies, according to a hospital blood bank technologist.
"We are only able to get O positive specifically when we need it," said Mary Orgill, blood bank technologist at the Tustin acute-care hospital.
"No surgeries have been postponed," Orgill said. "But we have a grand total of seven units of blood on our shelves. We're supposed to have 24 units at all times."
Orange County's 38 hospitals use anywhere from 350 to 450 units of blood per day, according to the Red Cross. Donations to the not-for-profit organization average about 380 units a day but drop off dramatically during the holiday season each year.
Monday was the scheduled end to that worrisome period in which supplies chronically drop off just as elective surgeries begin to be scheduled in early January. In response to wide public appeals in the media, donations in Orange County were running about 25% above normal. But Spindler said it could be another week before supplies were back to sufficient levels.
"To get back to normal, we'd probably have to collect as much as we have in the past week," he said. "We exceeded what we expected last week by about 500 to 600 units. If we did that again this week, then we would be out of the woods."