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Holidays challenge blood centers 

United Blood Services wants to avoid trouble this Thanksgiving and beyond

It's not a shortage, so don't call it that. There's no crisis, so try not to use that word, either. In fact, according to at least one press release from United Blood Services, the "local blood supply is currently ample and steady."

Great, right?

Well, maybe not. Despite the current donation levels, the blood situation on the Central Coast is not as rosy as it could be. It never is during the beginning of the holiday season.
That's why United Blood Services is trying to get the word out that it's seeking to "avoid Thanksgiving holiday woes."

Scott Edward, donor recruitment director with United Blood Services, explained that to every donation, there is a season.

"Basically, we have predictable times of the year when collecting blood becomes more challenging for us," he said. "We can never avoid the issue that comes up for Thanksgiving week."

click to enlarge GOOD TO THE LAST DROP:  United Blood Services needs to collect an average of 270 pints of blood a day on the Central Coast, from Salinas to Thousand Oaks. - PHOTO COURTESY OF UNITED BLOOD SERVICES
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF UNITED BLOOD SERVICES
  • GOOD TO THE LAST DROP: United Blood Services needs to collect an average of 270 pints of blood a day on the Central Coast, from Salinas to Thousand Oaks.
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The start of the holiday season traditionally also marks the start of busier schedules for locals and less time for donating blood. To that end, a few years ago, United Blood Services decided to be proactive in its attempts to avoid two common problems that pop up this time of year fewer visitors to the fixed donation centers and fewer businesses and groups hosting blood drives by asking for locals to make an extra effort to donate amid visiting family members and out-of-area travel plans.

Edward said that if the center doesn't put the word out reminding people of the need for blood during the holidays, the supply can dip significantly, stemming from as much as a 50 percent drop in collections on a particular day.

"As long as we stay proactive, we'll always have a decline, but it's not nearly as dramatic as it could be," he continued.

Edward explained that during the week of Nov. 13, United Blood Services collected about 1,300 to 1,350 pints of blood from Salinas to Thousand Oaks.

For Thanksgiving week, he said, they'll feel lucky if they collect 950 to 1,000 pints. If they don't succeed in getting the word out, they could get as little as 500 or 600 pints. The key is publicizing the need without crossing over into hype. Careful word choice is extremely important, he noted.

"Things could get worse, but we don't want people to accuse us of crying wolf," Edward said. "There's a fine line between talking about a shortage and trying to be proactive. Right now, we're still in the proactive phase."

The truth is, however, that while the supply is currently stable, a drop in donors could set off a domino effect that leads to a shortage going into December, Edward said. That's why United Blood Services wants to keep the blood rolling in now. Edward said that they braced themselves with a lot of college drives earlier in the month, but pointed out that blood has an expiration date, and some components don't last as long as others. Platelets, for example, have a "shelf life" of five days.

"All it takes is one bad week, and anything that we've built up can be severely impacted," he said.

Edward explained that United Blood Services serves more than 20 hospitals in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and southern Monterey counties. With such a large area to cover, the center needs to collect an average of 270 pints of blood a day.

Edward assured donors and potential donors that giving from your veins isn't giving in vain.

"The need is real, and the blood is being used," he said. "The need for blood is always there, and we need people to come in."

Editor Ryan Miller can be reached at rmiller@newtimesslo.com.

See red
The Blood Center is open throughout Thanksgiving week except for Thanksgiving day itself and is especially seeking donors to give on Wednesday, Nov. 22, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Friday, Nov. 24, also from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call for an appointment or walk into the San Luis Obispo center at 4119 Broad St. (543-4290) or the Santa Maria center at 1770 S. Broa 1dway (928-2546). Thanksgiving-week donors in San Luis Obispo can receive a certificate for a free lunch from Mother's Tavern. The donation process takes about an hour. For more information, visit www.unitedbloodservices.org/centralcoast or www.bloodhero.com.

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