Chronic shortages threaten healthcare system as potential second wave looms

NEW YORK — Area hospitals and academic medical centers including NYC Health + Hospitals, Northwell Health, NewYork-Presbyterian, Weill Cornell Medicine, Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Mount Sinai Health System, Montefiore Health System and Catholic Health Services of Long Island are joining forces with New York Blood Center (NYBC) to increase blood donations. Temporary blood shortages are not uncommon during summer and winter holidays each year, but the COVID-19 pandemic has created a chronic shortage across the country that shows no sign of improving. This reality is particularly dangerous given the looming uncertainty surrounding the pandemic’s trajectory over the course of this winter.

New York’s healthcare system requires 1,500 donations each day to treat patients ranging from trauma victims to newborn babies and their mothers to cancer patients. Prior to the pandemic, donors could stop by community blood drives at convenient locations, but nearly all high schools, colleges, offices and other community groups have had to cancel their blood drives due to COVID-19. Blood donors can now make appointments to visit donor centers, but donations are at just 65% of pre-pandemic levels – well below what is needed by hospitals and patients in our area.

“The entire foundation of the way people donate blood has changed. The convenience factor of walking down the hallway while at work, getting out of class or donating after religious services is gone. Instead, we have to rely on people taking the extra step of proactively seeking out a place to donate. So far, that isn’t happening at the level we need,” said Andrea H. Cefarelli, Senior Executive Director of Recruitment & Marketing for New York Blood Center. “In normal times, announcing a blood emergency would create a short-term increase in blood donations, but this will not solve this particularly difficult shortage long-term. This is an incredibly challenging time for our communities.”

“New York City Health + Hospitals is happy to partner with the New York Blood Center to raise awareness about the critical need for blood donations,” said NYC Health + Hospitals President and CEO, Mitchell Katz, MD. “The Covid-19 pandemic has created blood shortages for all New York City hospital systems, including ours. Donated blood can be essential for trauma and surgery patients in need. We encourage healthy New Yorkers to donate blood at NY Blood Center drives and donation sites now.”

“As we continue to recover from the initial surge of COVID-19 in our communities, the need for life-saving blood donations are more important now, than ever before,” said Alexander Indrikovs, MD, Senior Director of Transfusion Medicine at Northwell Health. “A reliable and adequate blood supply is critical to support our day to day provision of medical and surgical procedures and we encourage everyone who is eligible to please consider donating.”

“Transfusions are truly lifesaving therapies and our patients rely on the generosity of blood donors on a daily basis. The pandemic has led to several critical shortages in blood supply at our hospitals and has put our healthcare system at risk,” said Dr. Melissa Cushing, Director of Clinical Laboratories and Vice Chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and Dr. Robert DeSimone, Chief of Transfusion Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell. “The New York Blood Center has established protocols to make blood donation safe during the pandemic, and we encourage and implore anyone feeling well and healthy to make an appointment to donate to help save lives in our community.”

“A robust blood supply is critical to support our mission of providing safe and high-quality care for all our patients,” said Joseph Schwartz, MD, MPH, professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and director of Transfusion Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “The pandemic had put additional constraints on our communities as it relates to blood donation. The New York Blood Center has worked hard to establish a safe environment for these donations and we encourage everyone who is eligible and feels healthy to please consider donating.”

“Across our state and country, we are seeing an alarmingly low supply of blood,” said Joan Uehlinger, M.D., Director, Transfusion Medicine, Montefiore Health System and Associate Professor, Department of Pathology and Department of Medicine (Hematology), Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “We ask all New Yorkers that are able to donate blood to please do so. Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs a lifesaving blood transfusion. We can only make a difference if our friends, family and neighbors join the efforts of the New York Blood Center and donate blood to help those who are dependent on the generosity of others during this difficult time.”

“COVID-19 has made many aspects of our lives unpredictable, but there is one certain thing. Our family, friends, and individuals in our communities need blood every day to treat cancer, undergo major surgery, or deal with unexpected illnesses and you can help,” said Jeffrey Jhang, MD, System Director of Transfusion Medicine and Cellular Therapy for Mount Sinai Health System. “In partnership with the New York Blood Center, the Mount Sinai Health System provides blood to hundreds of patients every day. Blood is urgently needed, so please partner with us to offer this life-saving treatment by donating today.”

“The pandemic has led to many changes in how we go about our daily lives. Catholic Health has responded to those challenges, providing safe, quality care,” said Alan D. Guerci, MD, President and CEO of Catholic Health Services. “What hasn’t changed is the continued need for blood. To address the current shortage, we encourage residents to help their neighbors and make a donation today at one of CHS’s blood drives, or at a NYBC donation center. Doing so will help save lives.”

Factors contributing to the shortage include:

  • High schools and colleges account for 75,000 donations each school year, yet nearly all of these students and first-time donors will not donate this fall or spring semester.
  • Remote learning is impacting both parents and youth donations as families try to balance work and school.
  • Office workers are not returning at high rates, as only 10% of New York’s office workers are back. Nationally, there is a 40% reduction in corporate blood drives.
  • Utility, hospital and government workers are not donating at the same frequency as pre-COVID-19.

How New Yorkers can help:

To make an appointment to donate blood.

NYBC also needs more partners to step up and help host drives in large venues. If you have a space available and would like to host a blood drive, please sign up.

For information on the extra precautions being taken to help prevent the person-to-person spread of COVID-19, visit.