Critical blood supply shortage in western Montana presents physicians with ‘difficult decisions’ Local News – Archyworldys

Missoula doctors and healthcare providers are nervous and concerned they may have to make some very difficult decisions as a critical shortage of donor blood is expected to last for weeks.

dr Nicole Finke, pathologist and medical director of the lab at Community Medical Center, lay awake in bed one night recently because area hospitals only had one unit of life-saving platelets to share. Platelets can stop bleeding in a patient.

If a car accident or other trauma had occurred, it might not be nearly enough to save a life or lives.

“We were waiting for the next delivery on the Delta flight at 10 a.m.,” she recalls. “I’ve never been so excited. I was in my bed laying there waiting to hear it skim. I’m like OK, I’ll feel better when I hear it hit the ground running. I know we’ll have something. It won’t be much, but we’ll have more than one.”

Finke said the hospital is only 25% of its normal supply of universal type O negative, which is used for trauma patients when they need blood before their blood type can be identified. Community Medical and all hospitals in the area are in short supply of all types of blood.

“Depending on blood type, we’re at 25% or 75% of normal,” she said.

She had 17 units of blood on her shelves on Thursday, with just five more arriving on Friday.

“That’s with, you know, five patients who are actively using this,” she said. ‘And St. Pat’s is similar. St. Pat’s has the same challenges. We cover both hospitals. We’re doing the labs in both hospitals and down to Kalispell and down the Bitterroot and west to Butte. We pool resources.”

That tiny amount of blood wouldn’t cover a bad accident.

“I’ve been involved in trauma cases where up to 100 units of blood flowed,” Finke explained. “We often manage to stop the bleeding well in advance. But I saw it. A bleeding mother (during childbirth) used 50-120 units.”

Disaster could be an accident away.

“If there’s been a very bad car accident, St. Pat’s won’t have 100 units on the shelf,” she explained. “We just don’t have that. It could never happen now. Which would lead to some difficult decisions. We literally have a valuable handful and the whole community is connected.”

dr Beth Hock, chief nurse officer at St. Patrick’s Hospital in Missoula, said they only get a strict assignment of all blood types. If you need more for an emergency, delivery takes between 2 and 8 hours.

“So when we’re dealing with an emergency, we’re dealing with a serious crisis,” she said. “It’s a juggling act at the moment.”

She said the hospital is also low on plasma, which comes from blood.

“It’s really a serious, serious situation right now,” she said.

Megan Condra, Community’s director of marketing and community relations, said she knew Finke and other healthcare workers were stressed about the situation.

“[Finke]had mentioned that she was exhausted from being up all night, worrying that there might be a difficult birth or accident, and wondering if we’d had enough,” Condra explained.

Finke said there was trauma at St Pat’s Wednesday night that consumed quite a bit of blood.

“And the conversation was definitely, at what point, you know, do we stop because we’re risking everyone else’s life,” she said. “I think the pandemic has really shown us how connected we are.”

The math is almost too awful to think about.

“It’s not just about the individual,” she continued. “It’s for the greater good and at some point I can’t let one person take everything that’s in all of Missoula because then the next guy that comes down the pike just isn’t lucky or the kid or the mom you know , because life happens.”

All hospitals in the region get their blood from the American Red Cross, which collects and stores it. Due to the surge in coronavirus cases, the Red Cross is seeing fewer donors and also has fewer staff to conduct blood drive events.

Finke said she was told it was the first time in the organization’s history that the Red Cross had declared a critical blood shortage. And that’s a big deal, because in the United States, there’s a blood transfusion every two seconds.

“We’re working with very tight resources,” she said.

She never thought she would have to think about not having enough blood for all emergencies. Because unlike supply chain issues that affect clothing and food, the blood supply can be easily addressed as almost any healthy adult can donate.

“These are really not conversations that I don’t think any of us ever thought we would have in healthcare,” she said. “I certainly didn’t think I’d ever actually have these blood supply talks because if you’re 17 or older and weigh over 50 kilos you’re in reasonably good health so most people can go blood donate. So you know we can easily control that supply chain.”

People can donate every 56 days with no health impact.

“So it’s a renewable resource that we can control,” she said. “So I really didn’t think we’d ever get to this point.”

Find out when and where you can donate blood next time

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