People in Prince George want to give blood — but have to travel hundreds of kilometres to do so

·3 min read
Supplies of blood and plasma are low in Canada but not many options for donation in B.C. exist outside of large population centres in the south of the province. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)
Supplies of blood and plasma are low in Canada but not many options for donation in B.C. exist outside of large population centres in the south of the province. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)

Melanie Lindholm was a longtime blood donor in Alaska before her recent move to Prince George, B.C., where she found there was no local clinic for her to give blood.

Lindholm is frustrated that she would now have to travel hundreds of kilometres to the Okanagan, the Lower Mainland or Vancouver Island if she wanted to donate blood or plasma.

"I was quite surprised when I discovered there was not a donation centre here," said Lindholm, who said she was a regular donor over two decades in Fairbanks, Alaska. "If there were a donation centre in Prince George, I would be the first one to sign up."

Canadian Blood Services (CBS) permanently closed its only donor centre in Prince George in 2015, disappointing regular donors, some of whom had been giving blood for more than 20 years.

In doing so, it left the entire region of northern B.C. without a place to donate — Prince George acts as a health and service centre for the Northern Health Authority, which serves roughly 300,000 people over 592,000 square kilometres and serves a population of roughly 300,000 people.

But CBS continues to run campaigns in the region urging people to donate and supply across Canada has gotten so low the organization recently signed an agreement with a Spanish health-care company to help meet the demand for plasma.

These calls for blood and plasma are confusing to would-be donors who would like to contribute but find themselves unable to do so without travelling hundreds of kilometres.

'Huge need for blood'

Catherine Higgins, who also lives in Prince George, had to squeeze in a blood donation while on a recent trip to Vancouver.

As a health-care worker who has administered blood transfers on patients, Higgins says she knows how important donating blood is.

"[There] is a huge need for blood all the time — it's used for all sorts of different scenarios," said Higgins.

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Several other medium-sized cities in Canada are lacking donation services, including municipalities as large as Thunder Bay, Ont. (population 123,000), where the clinic closed in 2012. Corner Brook, N.L., and Sydney, N.S., both lost their clinics in 2015, as well.

David Patterson, the CBS's donor relations director for B.C. and Yukon, says Prince George is not a viable location for a donation centre  because it is too expensive to transport donated blood from there to the collection centre in Vancouver for processing.

"We need to get it to our collection site at maximum within 24 hours of receiving it from donors," he said, describing the limitations involved with handling blood products.

CBS's official website shows there are two blood donation clinics in Vancouver, and one each in Coquitlam, Surrey and Victoria, as well as a platelet donation clinic in Vancouver and a plasma donation clinic in Kelowna that opened last summer.

CBS also occasionally runs blood collection events with mobile clinics in Kamloops and Okanagan municipalities such as Salmon Arm and Penticton, but none across central or northern B.C.

But Lindholm says she would like to be able to donate in her home community and know that others are able to do so, as well.

"If we're not able to have our own donors... we're reliant on an outside source for the needs of our community."

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