Doctors at Riverside University Medical Center joined Riverside County supervisors Tuesday in appealing to residents countywide to donate blood amid a drastic shortage that could cost lives.

“Blood is a miracle drug, bringing patients who are on the brink of death back to life,” Dr. Michael Mesisca, a physician at the county hospital, told the Board of Supervisors just ahead of a blood drive at the County Administrative Center in downtown Riverside. “We have a fragile infrastructure with no major storage or reserve for blood. The crisis that has developed over the last four to six months has been truly alarming.”

Mesisca said hospitals and trauma centers throughout the county have been scrambling to restore depleted blood stocks, with units of product going to patients’ bedsides almost as fast as donations are collected.

“Our trauma centers have been tremendously impacted,” the doctor said. “A single patient can consume 40 units of blood. We don’t want to be in a situation where we have to tell loved ones of a patient, `We’re sorry. Your family member would have survived if we’d had more blood.”

He said there have not been documented deaths due to the blood shortage — yet.

One of the chief concerns is whether hospitals can handle a mass casualty event in the face of precipitously low supplies.

“That’s what keeps me awake at night,” Mesisca said.

The shortage is impacting hospitals nationwide, and the doctor pointed to the coronavirus public health lockdowns as the principal cause.

“The school closures have hurt us,” Mesisca said. “High school and college blood drives were generating 400 to 1,000 units. Faith-based organizations were not gathering.”

He said blood transfers from outside the county, previously accounting for 30% of aggregate supplies, have also plummeted.

According to the doctor, there has been limited headway persuading campuses’ superintendents to permit blood drives again, but “cancellations are still occurring because of COVID.”

Public safety agencies have done a better job boosting support for donation drives, Mesisca said.

“This is a call to action,” he said. “We need more businesses and leaders to step up. It’s a tremendous challenge, but I’m hopeful that post-COVID we will be stronger.”

Board Chairman Jeff Hewitt set aside time to make a blood donation, noting that the county government’s 22,000 employees offered a deep reservoir of untapped potential.

Supervisor Karen Spiegel said she, too, intended to help.

“People are afraid of needles, I know, but the reality is, there’s somebody you know who needs the blood,” she said.

LifeStream Blood Bank has donation drives occurring in multiple locations this week.

In addition to the one in downtown Riverside Tuesday, there was another in Calimesa.

On Friday, a donation clinic will be in operation from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Riverside Community Hospital, 4445 Magnolia Ave.

Another clinic is set for Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Farmer Boys restaurant, 1201 Sanderson Ave., in Hemet.

A final clinic is scheduled Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Menifee Town Center, 30125 Antelope Road.

Officials said donors must be at least 15 years old, and anyone under 17 must have parental consent. Mini physical exams will be required before a donation can proceed.

Prospective donors can make appointments ahead of time by calling 800-879-4484.

More information about donations is available at www.lstream.org/sos.

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