LAWRENCEVILLE - Local food pantries aren't the only public service experiencing a downturn in giving. Blood donations declined this summer, leaving area hospitals like Gwinnett Medical Center short on stockpiles.
Officials with the American Red Cross Southern Region Blood Center, the primary supplier of blood and blood products to 130 hospitals in Georgia, say the summer shortage is compounded by school being out - high school and college students make up 20 percent of donors - and an increase in travel among the public. In turn, the Red Cross is only able to collect between 900 and 1,000 pints of blood a day, short of the required 1,200 pints needed to sufficiently supply Georgia hospitals.
"There's a critical need, there's a constant need," said Tracye Bryant, spokeswoman for Southern Region Blood Center.
In years past, GMC had 40 pints of type O blood - a universal designate - in reserve for surgery and trauma situations. Now, GMC's stockpiled blood gets as low as 10 to 15 pints. Surgeries, if blood products are necessary, can be scheduled around supply needs, but unforeseen trauma events can eat up inventory quickly. When GMC's supply gets too low, hospital officials say, emergency responders are diverted to surrounding area hospitals, which cuts into time for patient care.
One pint of blood can save as many as three lives, Bryant said.
"It makes you a little nervous," said Dr. Michael Violette, a GMC emergency room doctor. "We had a woman yesterday who was critically anemic, and her treatment is she needs blood - there is no other treatment. If she doesn't get blood, she doesn't get better."
On average, a pint of blood is good for 45 days, at which time it is cycled out; an ideal scenario, Violette said, would be to throw out 30 percent of GMC's blood supply everyday. In an effort to boost supply, GMC will host blood drives Wednesday and Sept. 24.
"We're working on the edge all the time," Violette said.
Logistics also play a role in the shortage, according to Nancy Charron, administrative director of laboratories at GMC.
The Red Cross keeps its blood stockpile at a facility in Douglasville. If GMC needs an emergency supply, it can take up to two hours for a delivery.
"We've never canceled surgery," Charron said, "but we have alerted our physicians to say we're very short of blood, so if you're doing this procedure and you think you may need a lot of blood, let us make sure you have enough to go forward."
SideBar: If you go
What: Atlanta Red Cross blood drive
When: Wednesday and Sept. 24, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville
Register via the Web at www.givelife.org or call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE