A dangerously low blood supply has the county's Red Cross chapter and some area hospitals pleading for donors.

With schools closed forthe summer and many companies laying off employees, the Red Cross has lost a large share of its traditional donors, said Leo J. Guerin, director of the Anne Arundel County unit.

Many hospitals in the Central Maryland region have less than a single day's supply of blood on their shelves.

"We're in an urgent situation," Guerin said. "We're desperate."

Far fewer people have donated blood in recent months at Anne Arundel Medical Center. An abrupt 30 percent drop in donations has forced the Annapolis hospital to spend about $6,000 more a month to buy supplies from the Red Cross.

"This is the lowest we've been in some time," said Carolyn Tonty, spokeswoman for the hospital.

"We're not exactly sure why there's been this decline."

North Arundel Hospital already buys most of itsblood supply from the Red Cross, spokesman Kevin Murnane said. The Glen Burnie hospital also has a program that allows patients to store their blood before elective surgery, he said.

Anne Arundel MedicalCenter started its own blood bank more than a decade ago to offset the rising cost of buying from the Red Cross.

Each blood unit, which is about a pint, costs $65. Soon the price will increase to $73.50.

The county's two hospitals use 350 to 400 blood units a month. During summer months, the demand for blood typically increases, Tonty said.

The Red Cross fears that its current supply may be insufficient to cope with car accidents and other crises during the Fourth of July weekend, said Dr. Paul Ness, director of the Central Maryland regional chapter.

"We are working with individual hospitals and physicians to handle emergencies on a case-by-case basis," he said.

This is the first summer in two years that the Baltimore metropolitan area has had a major shortage of blood, Red Cross officials said. They blamed the recession and the cancellation of several high school blood drives for the sharp decrease.

Many companies have ended blood drives because of layoffs, Guerin said. In addition, last month's heatwave forced the Red Cross to cancel a number of visits to high schools in the area.

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