Red Cross Destroying Excess Blood Donated After Sept. 11
The American Red Cross has begun destroying thousands of pints of blood donated after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the Washington Post reports. While the Red Cross -- the nation's largest blood supplier -- will not comment on the amount of extra blood collected, some of its blood bank directors said that "at least 250,000 and perhaps as much as 400,000 extra pints [were collected] in the month after the attack" (Gaul/Flaherty, Washington Post, 11/11). A donation usually amounts to one pint (Buzbee, AP/Nando Times, 11/12). Blood has a shelf life of 42 days. The Red Cross estimates that "less than 10%" of the donations will be discarded. However, some Red Cross blood bank directors said that they may discard as much as 20% of donations, adding that the national total "could easily reach" tens of thousands of destroyed donations. The Post reports that the Red Cross is "mired in criticism stemming from its handling of the crisis."
The Post reports that the Red Cross continued to solicit donations even after it became "clear that there would be no huge demand for blood" because of the attacks' high mortality rate. "The most disturbing thing was that the Red Cross refused to hold back," the head of a large Red Cross center said, adding, "We were ordered by national (headquarters) to keep collecting." In contrast, America's Blood Centers, which handles about half of the nation's blood supply, notified the Red Cross that their centers would begin telling donors that "blood wasn't needed immediately" and asked them to schedule appointments in the future. Concerned about "mixed messages," federal officials then called a meeting with both blood suppliers at HHS to "draft a statement to guide donors." The Post reports that officials left "thinking a consensus had been reached that would promote donations, but ask donors to stagger their blood giving over coming months." But the Red Cross "later balked" at the agreement, Stephen Nightingale, executive director of HHS' blood safety and availability committee, said. Red Cross spokesperson Blythe Kubina said that after the meeting, the organization's officials decided "we were not comfortable saying we do not need donations anymore."
Red Cross officials said that they would handle the surplus by freezing the excess blood. But the Post reports that the organization "did not have the resources to freeze large amounts of excess blood." Celso Biancho, executive vice president of America's Blood Centers, said, "You just don't decide to freeze 100,000 units of blood. You need to have a good plan and time and money. It's very labor intensive" (Washington Post, 11/11). Still, Red Cross senior vice president Bill Blaul said that "with enough trained people," his organization is "hoping to build up to" freezing 100,000 pints. Blaul added that the Red Cross has already frozen more than 10,000 units, about a half-day's supply (AP/Nando Times, 11/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.