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In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, hospitals across the country are facing a critical shortage of donated blood, and staff at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica are urging local residents to do what they can to help.

Approximately 36,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the U.S., according to the American Red Cross. And the pandemic hasn’t put a halt to the demand.

“Community blood drives are a big part of what we do at the UCLA (Health’s) Blood & Platelet Center,” said Terri Hill, a recruitment coordinator at the local center. “The pandemic certainly hasn’t stopped the need,” but it has halted most of the center’s previously scheduled drives in the community.

“Our job is to organize the blood drive out in the community as well as our centers. And, normally, we work to schedule drives a year in advance,” Hill said. “But when the pandemic started and the stay at home measures were in place, every blood drive that we had fell off of our calendar, so we were stuck wondering where we were going to get blood for our patients.”

Cancer patients, trauma patients, mothers delivering babies, babies born in critical condition, and patients undergoing surgeries still frequently require blood transfusions, Dr. Dawn Ward, medical director for the UCLA Blood & Platelet Center recently said while detailing how blood donation is considered an essential service and is exempt from safer-at-home orders.

Right now, UCLA collects about 75% of the blood that they use for their patients from their donors. The rest comes from the Red Cross, according to Hill.

But with the Red Cross also in the same situation as UCLA Health and hospitals across the country, Hill said, “They actually can’t give us any blood, so we really are 100% collecting blood for ourselves now.”

This past week, donors would’ve been providing blood at a local high school before Hill and UCLA Health’s “Blood Mobile” headed to a church on Sunday. “But they’ve been closed, so there’s less people donating even though I’ve found that a lot of people want to do something to help and this is something that’s very easy to do,” she said.

Thanks to the city of Santa Monica, however, UCLA Health has been given permission to park its Blood Mobile at Airport Park to collect blood donations from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 23 and Thursday, April 30. There will also be two donation dates in May, according to Hill. Residents can visit ucedonor.com, click the blood drives section and enter “SMAP” in the Zip code box to sign up for an appointment themselves.

“We are finding a lot of first time donors even though a lot of people are really scared… which is fantastic because, usually, only 3% of Californians donate blood,” Hill said. “So if we can raise that number on a regular basis and hopefully create lifelong donors, that’d be great because we need to continue to have these blood drives.”

To ensure the safety of donors, Hill added the center is following precautions recommended by the American Association of Blood Banks and is looking to further promote the safety of staff by encouraging locals to schedule appointments online ahead of time.

This allows the blood center to stagger appointments and allow six feet of space between all donors and staff in the lobby and collection room, Hill said. “We’re even taking steps to ensure the cookies and movie ticket at the end are safe.”

Hill instructed residents to visit the UCLA Health website where they will also find additional information on eligibility and safety measures.

“All donors would need is a photo ID; it could be anything,” Hill said. “They should also eat well before donating and drink a lot of water to hydrate well. We want people to be feeling well and healthy when they donate.”

To schedule your next lifesaving blood or platelet donation, residents are encouraged to visit the website uclahealth.org/gotblood, email gotblood@mednet.ucla.edu or call 310-825-0888 and select option 2.

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