January 22, 2022

Harbor-UCLA trauma center closes briefly amid unprecedented blood shortages; more shutdowns possible

View Original Notice ? Harbor-UCLA trauma center closes briefly amid unprecedented blood shortages; more shutdowns possible

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The trauma center at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in unincorporated West Carson shut down for a time earlier this week because the hospital did not have enough blood supply to meet demand.

LA County’s Department of Health Services, which oversees the Harbor-UCLA complex near Torrance, confirmed that the trauma center closed for at least two hours Monday night. DHS representatives also said that the hospital was only able to reopen after staff “went above and beyond calling every vendor and other local hospitals to request urgent blood supply.”

LAC + USC Medical Center was one of the hospitals that stepped in to assist Harbor-UCLA.

“Closing down a trauma center to patients due to a blood shortage hasn’t happened in LA County in over 30 years,” said Marianne Gausche-Hill, a medical director for LA County’s Emergency Health Services Agency. “I can’t emphasize enough just how urgent and critical this blood shortage is for LA County residents. Trauma Centers play a vital role in providing emergency life-saving medical care to everyone.”

Dr. Christina Ghaly of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services Photo: Facebook video screenshot

County DHS director Christina Ghaly said in a statement that current shortages in health care staffing associated with the current COVID surge, combined with a national blood shortage, have begun to significantly impact hospitals across the county.

Earlier this week, the American Red Cross warned of a dangerously low supply of blood both around the country and in the Los Angeles area — and hoped to induce donations by automatically entering donors into a raffle for Super Bowl tickets and other prizes.

“We are facing a situation that has the potential to impact our hospital’s ability to care for the public in much more serious ways than what we saw during last winter’s surge,” Ghaly said. “Closing down a trauma center in the middle of a COVID-19 surge — when hospitals and ambulance providers are already struggling and when Emergency Departments are already strained – can result in dangerous delays to patients in need of urgent lifesaving medical attention.”

Meanwhile, with the Red Cross also facing staffing shortages as it looks to meet the “critical” need for blood, the organization staged a job fair in Arcadia on Wednesday, looking to fill spots on its mobile phlebotomist team to help operate blood drives in the area.

The organization said the COVID-19 pandemic is driving the shortage —causing a 10% overall decline in the number of people donating blood, as well blood drive cancellations and staffing limitations. The pandemic has contributed to a 62% drop in blood drives at schools and colleges, the organization said.

Dr. John Kunesh, pathologist, CLIA director of the clinical laboratory and medical director of the Blood Bank and Donor Center at Torrance Memorial Medical Center. (Photo courtesy TMMC)

Dr. John Kunesh, a pathologist at Torrance Memorial Medical Center said COVID has disrupted people’s lives — and their blood donation routines, too.

“I think it’s really made it worse,” Kunesh said, noting that most blood donation centers experience shortages during the winter and summer months. “I think that COVID has disrupted so many people’s lives — people are now working from home, they’re not out, they’re not thinking about donating.”

Kunesh said that Torrance Memorial, which has its own in-house blood donation center, has been able to manage during severe blood shortages.

“It has really saved us in times when there have been severe shortages,” Kunesh said. “If we run low, we can put a call out to our donors and they refill our shelves very quickly.”

But for the Red Cross, and other hospitals and medical centers that rely on its blood banks — the situation is dire.

“Our inventory is at crisis levels,” said Raahima Shoaib Yazdani, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross’ Los Angeles Region. “Right now, doctors are being forced to decide which patients receive blood transfusions and who must wait.”

The Red Cross said blood and platelet donations are critically needed to help prevent further delays in medical treatments, and urged donors of all blood types — but especially type O — to make appointments to give.

The organization said that in recent weeks, it has had less than a one-day supply of critical blood types and has had to limit blood product distributions to hospitals.

At times, as much as one-quarter of hospital blood needs are not being met, the organization said.

Ghaly said that if the current blood supply at Southern California Blood Banks is prioritized for L.A. County Trauma centers, other trauma centers could be forced to close down more frequently and for longer periods of time moving forward.

“We also desperately need a massive increase in blood donations,” Ghaly said. “Everyone has been focused on COVID-19, but we need to urgently focus some of our attention and efforts on donating blood.  If you are healthy enough to donate, please consider doing so – we need everyone who can to do their part and donate today.”

Appointments are available on the Red Cross Blood Donor App, by visiting RedCrossBlood.org or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

City News Service contributed to this report

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