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Vitalant Launches Community Awareness And Education Campaign To Address Declining Number Of Local Blood Donors

PITTSBURGH, April 3, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Vitalant (formerly Central Blood Bank), one of the nation's oldest and largest nonprofit transfusion medicine organizations, is drawing on the support of western Pennsylvania's two largest healthcare systems to address what could become a community health crisis – a consistent decline in the number of local blood donors.

Thanks to a grant from UPMC Health System and The Highmark Foundation facilitated by the Blood Science Foundation, Vitalant has launched an integrated community awareness campaign designed to educate the public on the systemic challenges created by this growing shortage, how it has the potential to impact the quality of health care in western Pennsylvania, and why a sustained, community-wide response is necessary to avert the problem.

Vitalant and prominent area physicians outlined the situation at a news conference held today at PPG Paints Arena.

"In the last 10 years, blood donations in this region have dropped by more than half. It is unprecedented, and it must be addressed," said Dr. Darrell Triulzi, medical director, Vitalant Clinical Services and director, Division of Transfusion Medicine, Department of Pathology, UPMC. "Our message is clear. We are calling on people across our region to make donating blood a lifelong habit. Giving blood on a regular basis will help ensure hospitals have enough blood to treat patients with cancer and other diseases, to perform elective and emergency surgeries and to help save the lives of our neighbors."

Vitalant serves as the exclusive blood product provider for Allegheny Health Network and UPMC Health Systems as well as other hospitals in the area. These health care facilities are being directly affected by the dramatic decline in blood donations.

"There is no substitute for blood," said Dr. Kim Ritchey, vice chair of clinical affairs and professor of pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "Through Vitalant, we depend entirely on generous people who are willing to give part of themselves to save or improve someone else's life. We must face this challenge together as a community."

"We never want to get to the point where a shortage of blood forces us to postpone treatments and surgeries, but that is a very real possibility," added Dr. Alan Murdock, chief of emergency surgery in the Division of Trauma at Allegheny General Hospital. "Many people don't realize that it's the blood that's already at the hospital that helps us save lives, because it takes about 48 hours to test and process donated blood, and it is critical to have blood available before an emergency."

Charles Wilcox, Northeast Division president, Vitalant, pointed to recent donation statistics to illustrate the massive challenge faced by the healthcare community. In 2017, the hospitals Vitalant supports required nearly 160,000 pints of blood to treat patients. Local blood donors provided about 74,000 pints of blood, less than half the amount needed. This has required Vitalant to import the blood from other communities, costing tens of millions of dollars each year. 

"The current trend in blood donations in our region suggests a pending public health crisis if we do not aggressively address the problem now," said Wilcox. "We need to change people's mindsets and help them understand that their consistent donation of blood is critical to the health of those in their communities."

Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, concurs. "An adequate blood supply is critical for the health of our residents, and we are very pleased to see the efforts that Vitalant is making to raise awareness about this pressing issue," she noted. "We ask that you roll up your sleeve and donate blood today. By donating, you could be saving a life."

Today's news conference is the first step in a multi-pronged approach to recruit and retain more blood donors across Vitalant's service area. The organization will be partnering with prominent companies, educational institutions and faith-based organizations, asking each one to share the urgency of the situation with their constituents and encouraging everyone to establish blood donation programs at their respective sites.

"Blood donors tell us consistently that convenience would more readily allow them to donate," Wilcox said. "Although Vitalant has 11 donation centers and holds several community blood drives daily throughout the region, we realize that offering convenient donation opportunities may increase our ability to recruit committed donors. We're ready to make this happen and create an entirely new generation of reliable blood donors. That's why we're asking businesses, churches, schools and other groups to step up and schedule donation programs with several blood drives a year."  

Those willing to sponsor blood donation programs or who want to make an appointment to donate blood are encouraged to call 412.209.7000.

About Vitalant
Vitalant ("Vye-TAL-ent") is the nation's second largest community blood service provider, supplying comprehensive transfusion medicine services for nearly 1,000 hospitals and health care partners for patients in need across 40 states. Vitalant inspires local communities to serve the needs of others and transform lives through the selfless act of donating blood. In the greater Pittsburgh area, Vitalant (formerly Central Blood Bank) has been the area's nonprofit community blood provider for more than 60 years, and serves patients in 50 hospitals in the region, including nine western Pennsylvania counties and communities throughout West Virginia and eastern Ohio. For more information and to schedule a donation, visit or call 412.209.7000.

CONTACT: Kristen Lane


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