In March, second-year Max Korsun and Aviva Klein '19, members of the UChicago Blood Initiative student group, founded the national University Blood Initiative to raise awareness about blood shortages nationwide, and to encourage people to volunteer at local blood centers.
The initiative matches universities and colleges to blood centers in their area, facilitating local donations and encouraging universities to set up their own blood initiatives in the long term. Korsun has been in contact with various blood centers across the U.S. to expand the original, locally-focused UChicago Blood Initiative to other universities. “Some centers are doing well and have a lot of donors, other blood centers are not getting any donations,” he said in an interview with The Maroon. “The national infrastructure for blood delivery is shut down so it is important for people to get the word out and donate locally.”
Across the nation, hospitals have reported record blood shortages in the weeks following the COVID-19 outbreak. Third-party organizations such as the American Red Cross have also been forced to shut down mobile blood drives and to stop delivering blood to hospitals. Hospitals across the nation, including the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC), need a constant stream of appointment donors for the duration of the pandemic as they no longer have third-party facilitators.
The UCMC is no exception to the trend of blood shortages and has increased its calls for blood donations. The UChicago Blood Initiative, in response to the blood shortages, has thus begun to locally advocate for blood donations within the Hyde Park community.
Blood centers across the country have had to change their policies for walk-in blood donations, in order to increase safety and to abide by social distancing guidelines. UCMC’s blood center has cancelled all walk-in blood donations, requiring donors to make appointments online. In addition, the center previously had six beds for donors, but to reduce social contact has reduced the number of beds to two, which restricts the number of donors they can get at both at once and overall.
Both UChicago Blood Initiative and the newly formed University Blood Initiative will be spending the next few months working on an intense publicity campaign.
University Blood Initiative will be partnering with college students across the country to advocate for increased blood donations, especially to local centers. So far, they’ve paired Boston Children’s Hospital’s blood donation center with students from Boston University and Brandeis University, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s blood center with Hunter College students. University Blood Initiative is also in the process of connecting students with centers in Florida, California, and Washington.
For UChicago Blood Initiative specifically, this short-term campaign will be built through a heavy social media push, outreach to UChicago faculty and staff, and communication with local Hyde Park businesses which may offer vouchers for discounts to people who have donated blood. In addition, the student group will be working on a guide and rule book, so volunteers nationwide will have procedures for communicating with blood centers and their local communities. The UChicago Blood Initiative has also been working with UCMC to publicize the need for blood donations.
The UChicago Blood Initiative was originally founded three years ago by Aviva Klein ’19 as the Blood Donor Ambassadors. Klein was approached by a doctor at the UCMC blood center, which was lacking blood donors, to find ways for the center to engage with campus. The organization has worked directly with UCMC to publicize the blood center to the campus community and later formed partnerships between the blood center and local restaurants and theaters to give donors meal vouchers and discounts.
Reflecting on what students can do to contribute, Korsun said, “Regardless of if you can donate, or if there is a center near you, spread the word. Post on neighborhood Facebook groups and high school Facebook groups. If you can, donate; please take safety precautions and donate, while spreading the word.”
UChicago Medicine’s blood center is open for appointments scheduled by phone.
Editor's Note, 1 p.m., April 9, 2020: This article was updated with several corrections.
The title was updated to reflect that the national University Blood Ambassadors campaign was launched by members of UChicago Blood Ambassadors, rather than by UChicago Blood Ambassadors themselves.
The article previously stated that University Blood Ambassadors was co-founded by Elisabeth Shen. The article has been updated to reflect that the organization was co-founded by Aviva Klein.