Colorado’s first American Red Cross blood donation center opens amid ongoing need for donors

Toby Talbot/AP
The American Red Cross opened a collection center in Denver on March, 1, 2024. (File)

To meet the never-ending demand for blood donations, the American Red Cross opened a collection center in Denver this week, noting that every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs a transfusion. 

The site opened its doors to donors on Monday. 

“Historically, local blood banks serviced the Denver metro area and met the need for blood products,” said Josh Egbert, regional communications manager for American Red Cross of Colorado and Wyoming. “As the population grew and our partnerships with local medical facilities increased, we saw the opportunity for the Red Cross to bring blood collections to Denver.” 

The American Red Cross is stepping into a blood donation market in the metro area almost entirely supported by Vitalant — formerly Bonfils Blood Center — the state’s largest nonprofit blood provider. The organization, which has been around since 1943, provides blood for 95 percent of Colorado hospitals and said they are prepared to serve all hospitals in the state, said Brooke Way, communications manager for Vitalant. 

“Vitalant needs to collect more than 600 units of blood every day in Colorado to ensure hospitals can treat patients who need transfusions,” she said. “Our donors here in Colorado provide more than 200,000 donations each year.”

American Red Cross and Vitalant agree that any opportunity to recruit more blood donors is beneficial, especially because the need is ongoing. But whether an additional donation site will lead to new arms to poke or will split the already small number of donors in Colorado is unclear. Will two companies vying for the same thing lead to more competition?

“It's not about competition, it's about saving lives,” said Egbert. 

In January, the American Red Cross faced an emergency blood shortage. Over the last 20 years, the number of people donating blood to the organization decreased by 40 percent. It’s estimated that about three percent of the U.S. population donate blood, even though most people are eligible.

In 2023, the American Red Cross, which also provides services during disasters, supplied nearly 33,600 units of blood products to 14 local hospitals in Colorado through its national inventory management system. It supplies about 40 percent of the U.S. blood supply.

Courtesy of Abbott/Blood Centers of America
The first Colorado blood donors to try this mixed reality experience are available for use with credit to Vitalant, including sound bites from Vitalant blood donor Taylor Guess. The only Vitalant location currently offering this experience is the Lowry donation center.

Meanwhile, Vitalant is trying to lure donors with what it calls an enhanced blood donor experience, in which donors wear virtual reality headsets and “see a virtual garden blended with their real surroundings while listening to soothing music,” according to a release. It’s only available at the Lowry donation center in Denver.

In January, a few dozen Vitalant donors got free lift tickets to Loveland Ski Area.

The Children’s Hospital is served by both the American Red Cross and Vitalant, and it has its own blood donation center and mobile donation units. The hospital collects the vast majority of its own blood products for pediatric patients. But about five percent of its supplies come from the American Red Cross and Vitalant. 

“A fair amount of it comes from the Red Cross. They've been really great partners to us, particularly with our platelet needs when we have a shortage,” said Kyle Annen, medical director of apheresis and cellular therapy at Children's Hospital Colorado.

From Annen’s perspective, the main concern with the new Red Cross donation site is the same issue Children’s Hospital and Vitalant face: how to recruit more and new donors? She said there’s also the possibility that mobile drives operated by the three blood donation collectors could overlap, but that also means more time slots for donors. 

The FDA changed rules about blood donation just last year as a way of opening the door to more people willing to roll up their sleeves. Now, gay and bisexual men in monogamous relationships can give blood in the U.S. without abstaining from sex under updated federal health guidelines that focus on donors’ behavior, not their sexual orientation.

The American Red Cross has plans to expand blood collection in the Colorado and Wyoming regions, but there are no definite plans yet. 

“The more people who give blood, the better-prepared hospitals can be to serve patients, because that’s ultimately the shared goal,” said Way. “There is no substitute for blood, so we rely on our volunteer blood donors to give blood throughout the year.”

Interested in donating? 

Vitalant has 10 donation centers and multiple community-hosted blood drives every day. To make an appointment at a Vitalant location, donors can visit, download and use the Vitalant app, or call 877-25-VITAL (877-258-4825).

To donate to the American Red Cross, donors can schedule an appointment using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, by visiting or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Children’s Hospital Colorado accepts blood or platelet donations at the Blood Donor Center in Aurora, make an appointment online or call 720-777-5398. You can also search for a blood drive near you, or learn how to host a blood drive.