A national supply chain shortage of blood products has forced Maine Medical Center in Portland to reschedule surgeries in recent weeks, as record-breaking cold and winter weather has caused blood drives to be canceled in several states.

“Paralyzing winter weather across most of the U.S. this month has challenged not only the collection of lifesaving blood products, but also the distribution to support patients in need,” said Jessa Merrill, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross. “Icy roads and precipitation have challenged the ability of many blood providers, including the American Red Cross, to get lifesaving blood products to hospitals in impacted areas – especially Texas.”

In a statement Friday, Maine Medical Center said it has had to reschedule fewer than a dozen surgeries over the past three weeks because of the national shortage of blood products. “MMC is constantly monitoring its blood supply as part of its effort to deliver high-quality, safe patient care and will communicate with patients directly if any future appointments need to be rescheduled due to this issue,” the hospital said.

Unrelated to the blood supply, Maine Med also postponed some elective surgeries to free up staff and inpatient beds during the recent COVID-19 surge.

“We apologize for any inconvenience to our patients, and appreciate the flexibility and understanding patients have shown as we continue to put their safety first during the pandemic,” the hospital said.

A spokeswoman for Northern Light Health, a network of more than a dozen hospitals across Maine, including Mercy Hospital in Portland and Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, noted the “highly concerning” nationwide shortage, but said surgeries had not yet been postponed.

“First, we encourage those who can give blood to please do so,” Suzanne Spruce, chief marketing and communications officer for Northern Light Health, said in a statement Sunday. “While it is not unusual to experience a decrease in the blood supply during winter months, there is currently a highly concerning nationwide shortage. That is due to a number of factors, including extreme weather in some parts of the country, COVID-19 (large donation events are not being held), and an overall general reduction in donations. All of that can lead to a decreased supply of blood in Maine.”

Spruce added: “Northern Light Health belongs to a cooperative network of blood banks that are willing to help one another when patients are in need. We have not yet had to postpone surgeries; however, we have asked that routine transfusions that can be safely delayed to some patients be postponed until shipments of blood arrive.”

Ann Kim, a spokeswoman for Central Maine Healthcare, said hospitals in that network have not had to cancel or reschedule any surgeries recently because of blood shortages. The network includes Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Bridgton Hospital and Rumford Hospital.

A spokeswoman for the Maine Hospital Association, Becky Schnur, said the organization hadn’t heard of operations being bumped because of a lack of blood. The MHA represents 36 community-governed hospitals across the state.

A wide swath of hospitals throughout the Plains and Southern states have raised alarms about shortages, and are asking residents to donate at blood drives.

Hospitals in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, area are short on platelets, and have organized numerous blood drives, with incentives such as COVID-19 antibody tests and free T-shirts for participants.

In northern Alabama, emergency blood drives are underway after cold weather forced blood centers to close for two days, local news channel WHNT reported last week. And in Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma Blood Institute relaxed its donor eligibility rules to make up for a shortage.

Maine and other states were already struggling with lower blood supplies because of the pandemic. This past summer in Maine, surgery schedules started to resume following an initial rush of cancellations last spring after the coronavirus arrived in the state. But supply hadn’t caught up to demand, forcing hospitals and the Red Cross to issue an urgent call for donations.

Those wishing to donate blood in Maine may find more information by visiting the Red Cross website at redcross.org/give-blood.html and clicking “Find A Drive.”

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