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Critical National Blood Shortage; Local Blood Drives Help Out

SDPB / Laura Johnson


Tucked away in the back of the Sioux Falls Empire Mall, the American Red Cross staged a recent  two-day blood drive. They collected around 60 units of blood which can save up to 180 lives.  


Jennalee Martin  is a frequent donor. So, when the mall sent out a promotion for the blood drive, she jumped on board. 


“I think the best part is knowing I’m going to help somebody,” Martin said. “I’m healthy so I can help somebody who’s not as healthy and doesn’t have that luxury right now.” 


 The American Red Cross reports that while 30 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood only one percent actually do. Patty Brooks, Executive Director of the Red Cross for Eastern South Dakota, said the summertime is typically slow for donations because people are busy and  traveling more.  Plus recent travel can disqualify them from donating.


Despite the challenges, Brooks said the recent blood drive was very successful.  


“We finished over our goal at 117 percent of goal in South Dakota,” she said.  


Brooks said the Red Cross focuses on regional events in South Dakota rather than planning statewide efforts.  


“We don’t collect blood all across South Dakota not from like central and western. There just isn’t the availability to bring in phlebotomists and keep the blood fresh because it does need to be transported, but all of the counties that I am responsible for in Eastern South Dakota do have blood donation sites available and we’ve done a great job of meeting that demand here in Eastern South Dakota.”


The American Red Cross uses the blood donations for national emergencies. Local drives organized by  the Community Blood Bank  supply local hospitals such as Sandford and Avera with necessary units. Those efforts are barely keeping up with demand. 


 The increased need for blood donations  comes because of  surgeries that were put off during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.  


Executive Director of the Community Blood Bank Ken Versteeg said the pandemic also created safety concerns that deterred donors from donating. 


“It’s kind of a catch-22 for us where we’re struggling. We’re seeing an increase of need and also a decrease in people participating and donating blood."


Versteeg said a mixture of summer activities and coronavirus shutdowns caused  lower donation rates.  


In the Sioux Falls area, hospitals  need between 400 to 700 units per week. Blood drives are currently bringing in around 400 units, enough to keep up but not for long.  


Versteeg encourages anyone who is eligible  to donate.