Utahns are being asked to give blood now. Just in case.

A bigger stockpile will ensure adequate blood supplies both locally and in the Middle East, officials at IHC Blood Services said Saturday."Obviously, as the major supplier of blood for the Intermountain region, we feel we would like to do what we can to help in the war effort," said Dr. Myron Laub, medical director for the service. "We are sure our donors would like to do so also."

In another local response to heightened pressure in the Middle East, the Veteran's Administration Medical Center on Thursday began making daily reports of available bed space.

On Friday, the hospital reported to regional officials that 26 beds are available, if needed, for war casualties, said Ted Baxter, director of planning and development.

Of the 172 Veteran's Administration hospitals nationwide, the Salt Lake facility is designated as one of 71 primary receiving centers. Later this month, staff members will receive additional training in ballistics, combat-induced trauma, infectious diseases and chemical injury.

"Organizationally, we're not on the forefront of the receiving hospitals," Baxter said.

"I think there's a chance that we could receive casualties. But by the time that they reach us, the word that we're getting (from officials) is they would be stabilized. We're told that we will have anywhere from two to four days' advance notice. It's a planned, managed response."

On Friday, the hospital had 217 patients, and officials consider that a full census, based on staff shortages. Fifty VA medical reservists, including 30 nurses, have been called as part of Operation Desert Shield. The callups forced the hospital last month to cut space available for patients by 36 beds.

With the threat of war intensifying, the U.S military has stockpiled blood for months to treat war casualties, as well as patients at home. Complying with an agreement with the Department of Defense, the American Red Cross has been sending 300 units a week to the Middle East. In the past week, that amount pulsed to 1,000 units a week.

Despite the increased demand, Barbara Lohman, American Red Cross spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said there hasn't been a problem in supplying blood to the country's hospitals. "Obviously we hope none of the blood we are sending now will be necessary, but we have contingency plans should a conflict occur and should blood products be needed."

The Red Cross supplies approximately 50 percent of America's blood supply. However, the agency discontinued its blood service in Utah in 1986. IHC Blood Services is the principal supplier in this area.

Laub said the service coordinates with local military institutions and national groups, such as the American Association of Blood Banks. "We do have a contingency plan to meet our local needs plus give assistance to the war effort should the need actually arise."

If Utah's blood supply dwindles, elective surgeries could be postponed. Special blood draws would be scheduled throughout the state. But Laub hopes the call for more donors will be successful.

The key to avoiding a shortage is to donate now, Laub and Lohman said.

"In the past we have been ready for emergencies," Lohman said. "We would get the word out and Americans responded - both to mobilizations for disasters in this country and in times of war."


Where to give

Utahns eligible to give blood can donate to IHC Blood Services at these locations:

- LDS Hospital, Salt Lake City

- Cottonwood Hospital, Murray

- Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, Provo

- Dixie Medical Center, St. George

- McKay-Dee Hospital Center, Ogden

- Logan Regional Hospital, Logan