|By Alan Bavley, The Kansas City Star|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Its donors provided a record number of units of red blood cells for area hospital patients that year, and the blood center opened a gleaming new state-of-the-art laboratory about a mile from its midtown headquarters to swiftly test donor blood for infections.
As the Great Recession took hold that year, people started worrying about their jobs and health insurance, and they canceled elective surgeries.
More important, hospitals across the country -- including
Research had been mounting for years that most hospital patients stayed healthier when they received little or no transfused blood. They faced less risk of infection, lung complications, even death.
From 2008 to 2011, transfusions nationwide dropped 8.2 percent, according to the most recent data from the
Declining demand is forcing a lot of belt-tightening by blood collection organizations that less than a decade ago faced chronically short supplies.
In 2012, the
"It's a new world," said
Collecting all the blood needed has always been difficult, Menitove said, and the blood center still needs people to donate regularly. But, he added, "this is a paradigm change from blood shortages to an adequate supply."
Blood centers across the country have been merging, laying off staff and looking for other ways to economize. In 2010, the two blood centers serving most of
"It's ugly. You see yourself as the good guys and you're laying people off," said
As blood centers merge, America's Blood Centers has seen its membership drop. Last year, it held a training session on mergers and acquisitions for its members.
Plummeting demand caught some blood centers off guard, Katz said, but "we had a lot of warning. The handwriting's been on the wall for a while."
To be sure, blood transfusions remain an essential part of medicine. Donated blood is usually processed into component parts that are transfused separately depending on a patient's needs -- red blood cells that carry oxygen, for example, or platelets that stop bleeding.
Transfusions can be lifesavers for people who are bleeding from traumatic injuries or who have illnesses that leave them severely depleted.
But since the early 1980s, researchers have been showing that for patients who aren't in immediate danger from blood loss, fewer transfusions are at least as good, and maybe better, for their health.
Studies linked transfusions in cancer patients to the reappearance of their disease. Other studies found death rates after heart surgery were higher in patients receiving transfusions. Report after report found associations between transfusions and pneumonia, stroke, heart attack, lung injury, delayed wound healing and organ failure.