For the first time in more than a decade, the American Red Cross Blood Services in this region has advised hospitals to delay all non-emergency transfusions for type O blood because supplies are dangerously low.
The New York-Penn Region's advisory to the 120 hospitals it serves follows by a few days an emergency appeal by the organization's national headquarters for increased blood donations.
With little response to that appeal, the regional office has taken the rare action of advising hospitals to voluntarily delay some transfusions.
"We're letting hospitals know that if things don't improve, there's going to be a pinch in supplies. We don't want them to be caught off guard," said Sybil Miller, a spokeswoman for the organization.
The advisory focuses on O-positive and O-negative blood, the two most requested types. In an emergency, anyone can receive type O red blood cells.
Declining blood donations over several weeks, coupled with hospital use outpacing blood collections, have prevented the Red Cross from maintaining a strong blood supply, Miller said.
In June, for instance, the New York-Penn Region distributed 27,527 units of red blood cells, but only collected 26,462 units of blood.
More new blood donors are needed, Miller said, adding that the national percentage of donors that give blood is 5 percent compared to 4.1 percent in this region.
Officials are hopeful the advisory can be lifted in a few days once donors respond, Miller said.