By Caroline Cummings

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Local hospitals are asking Minnesotans to donate blood amid a national supply shortage that the Red Cross is calling a “crisis” not seen in more than a decade.

“That is not language we use lightly,” said Tonia Teasley, regional CEO for the American Red Cross.

READ MORE: Minnesota Weather: Temps Take Another Tumble Thursday

More than 100 hospitals in Minnesota rely on the Red Cross for its supply, and the organization provides 40% of the country’s blood reserve. The pandemic cut off many reliable access points: There are fewer blood drives at businesses, churches and schools, which alone have decreased by more than half.

Dr. Claudia Cohn, medical director of the blood bank at the University of Minnesota’s medical center, said that hospitals keep volumes at certain levels, known as “par” levels. At that capacity, providers feel comfortable with supply.

Memorial Blood Center, which fulfills needs for the M Health Fairview system, asked the hospital to reduce their units by 20%, she said.

“They have asked us to tighten our belts to keep fewer units on the shelf,” she said.

In her 15 years in the field, she hasn’t yet seen the national shortage happening today.

“This is not crying wolf,” she said. “This is as bad as I’ve ever seen it.”

READ MORE: Judge Hears Arguments In COVID Mandate Lawsuit By Minneapolis Restaurants Against City

But patient care at M Health Fairview has not been impacted. Dr. Jed Gorlin, who is both the transfusion service medical director at Hennepin County Medical Center and medical director at Memorial Blood Center, said nobody has been denied a needed blood transfusion at a hospital that Memorial serves.

Still, inventory isn’t at optimal levels and like other industries, blood centers face staffing shortages due to COVID.

“We have the same amount of our own staff out with COVID as everybody else and so that makes it harder to have extra drives,” he said. “Normally we’d love to have a four or five-day inventory when we’re often to under three.”

In a statement, Children’s Minnesota said it’s been asked to keep 20% less blood on hand than normal and supplies have been particularly constrained over the past two to three months. The national shortage has not impacted the hospital’s operations, a spokesman said.

Dr. Lauren Anthony, laboratory medical director at Allina Health, warned that if the situation does not improve, it could have serious effects on care. Providers in Minnesota hope they won’t have to make crisis-level decisions on whose needs are most urgent.

“We’re doing everything we can’t avoid that,” she said. “And if that means that we have to delay surgeries that can be safely delayed, there’s a cost but not as much of a cost as exhausting our blood supply.”

You can schedule appointments for blood donations in Minnesota online at the Red Cross and Memorial Blood Centers.

MORE NEWS: Cue The Potholes! Winter Nuisances Popping Up Right On Schedule

“We need people to be getting in the habit of donating regularly. not just during crises,” said Gorlin. “So the message should not be, ‘there’s a crisis, go out and donate.’ The message should be: as part of our civic responsibility, we should be donating regularly. That’s how we have a safe and robust blood supply.”

Caroline Cummings