Shortages of milk and eggs are inconvenient, but what happens when supply chain disruptions mean the difference between life and death?
With only 38 percent of the US population eligible to donate blood—and less than 10 percent of that group rolling up their sleeves each year—“the foundation of the blood supply chain has always been shaky,” says Itir Karaesmen Aydin, professor of information technology and analytics in the Kogod School of Business. “But the pandemic almost destroyed that foundation.”
The US blood supply chain is built from the carefully coordinated activities of multiple stakeholders: volunteers donate blood to nonprofit centers that test, stock, and distribute it to hospitals and health care providers. And unlike canned goods, blood can’t be hoarded in case of emergency.
“Seasonality of supply affects the inventory. You can’t stockpile in the spring or fall in anticipation of the challenges during summer or winter when donations go down due to vacations or inclement weather,” says Karaesmen Aydin, who studies mathematical models that determine the supply levels that optimize inventory performance. “For instance, platelets can only be stored for five days. You need a constant supply to meet demand throughout the year.”
Even with the postponement of elective surgeries amid the pandemic, inventory remains dangerously low because of winter storms and the Omicron variant. Key to building a more robust and sustainable supply chain is recruiting more donors, especially young people.
“Blood donations should be a part of corporations’ and businesses’ social responsibility. People may continue to work from home even when the pandemic conditions ease, but . . . corporations and blood centers [still] have to come together to attract more donors.”