Blood shortages forced the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services to shut down one of its trauma centers to new patients for hours earlier this week — a step it had not taken in over three decades, officials at the county department said Wednesday.
The trauma center at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center closed to new patients for more than two hours on Monday, according to a department spokesperson. It had to reach out to other hospitals in the DHS system for blood in order to reopen.
Dr. Marianne Gausche-Hill, medical director of the Los Angeles County EMS Agency, said L.A. County had not had to close a trauma center to patients because of inadequate blood supplies in more than 30 years.
“I can’t emphasize enough just how urgent and critical this blood shortage is for L.A. County residents,” Gausche-Hill said.
Dr. Christina Ghaly, director of the health services department, said that the critical shortage in blood, combined with surging hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients and staff shortages, could affect how hospitals can care for the public “in much more serious ways” than the surge last winter, resulting in canceled surgeries and delayed care for people in need.
“Closing down a trauma center in middle of a COVID-19 surge — when hospitals and ambulance providers are already struggling and when emergency departments are already strained — can result in dangerous delays to patients in need of urgent lifesaving medical attention,” Ghaly said in a statement.
She argued that unless blood banks in Southern California make sure that the limited supply is prioritized for designated trauma centers in L.A. County, “we could see trauma centers forced to close down more frequently and for longer periods of time in the coming weeks.” Ghaly urged Angelenos to donate blood if they can.
The Red Cross, which says it is now facing its worst blood shortage in over a decade, has faulted dwindling donations amid the pandemic and flu season. High school and college students, who once accounted for a quarter of its annual donors, have become much less likely to give as on-campus blood drives have been canceled.
The blood shortage is just one of the forces straining local hospitals: Surging numbers of healthcare workers have gotten infected with COVID-19 as the highly contagious Omicron variant has spread.
In the face of those staff shortages, California is allowing asymptomatic healthcare workers who have tested positive for the coronavirus to return to work immediately — a policy that has alarmed many workers and community members.