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Shortage squeezes area blood supplies

The shortage is so serious that Florida Blood Services is, for the first time, asking hospitals to delay elective surgeries.

By JEAN HELLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Florida Blood Services, which supplies blood to 34 hospitals in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, asked those facilities Wednesday to postpone most elective surgeries because of critical blood shortages.

While there have been shortages and urgent requests for blood donations before, FBS said this is the first time since it formed in 1994 that shortages have been so critical it has had to resort to a plea to limit surgery. The blood banks that merged to become FBS, some of which were in business for decades, never did either.

FBS blamed the shortage on illnesses such as flu that have cut into donations, while trauma cases, organ transplants, surgeries and the influx of winter visitors have boosted the demand for blood. Officials suggest postponing such elective procedures as cosmetic and orthopedic surgery.

"I'm sure if everyone cooperates, and I have no doubt everyone will, we will get through this with enough blood to meet emergency needs," said Michael Wasylik, chief of orthopedics at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa and president of the Hillsborough County Medical Society.

Caryn Caldwell, executive director of the Pinellas County Medical Society, said that what typically happens in blood shortages is that hospitals notify the physicians on staff of the need to conserve.

"It's fully within the rights of a hospital to recommend that elective surgery be postponed," Caldwell said. "And the doctors will cooperate. It's in their interest to ensure there is enough blood for emergency and trauma patients."

A number of bay area hospitals are rounding up staff members to donate blood to help alleviate the shortage.

Elective surgery cases in which a patient has donated his own blood or lined up friends and relatives to supply blood would not be delayed.

"Doctors have known of the critical blood shortages for some time and have been working with their patients to find ways not to strain the supply further," said Ivette Carver, vice president of patient care services at Bayfront Medical Center here.

To find out more information about donating blood, contact Florida Blood Services at www.fbsblood.org or call (800) 682-5663.

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