Shortage of medical supplies as Puerto Rico still recovers from hurricane

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Health care professionals in the Meriden area and across the U.S. are scrambling to address shortages of intravenous bags and other medical necessities, as Puerto Rico, a major supplier, continues to recover from Hurricane Maria. 

“It’s greatly complicating things,” said Eric Arlia, director of pharmacy at Hartford Hospital. “At a minimum it’s taking at least 50 percent of our time managing drug and intravenous, or IV, shortages. After two three-day weekends, it’s more like 80 percent.”

Supplies of intravenous bags have traditionally been tight, but the hurricane has crippled one of three suppliers, Baxter International Corp. who up until recently, was running on generators.  

“The medical products industry has a significant presence in Puerto Rico, and the disruption to this industry has had ramifications for patients both on the island and throughout the U.S.” stated Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. “The FDA  has been working closely with federal and Puerto Rican authorities to help stabilize the medical products manufacturing sector.”

Hospitals across the country are reporting shortages of intravenous fluids, particularly sodium chloride 0.9-percent injection bags, a type of saline bag. Saline intravenous fluids, used to inject drugs in hospital and out-patient settings, have been in short supply since 2014, but the electrical issues in Puerto Rico has exacerbated the shortage.  

The FDA is working with Baxter to help restore operations on the island, and with other manufacturers.

 “This remains a key area of focus for the agency and we expect that the shortage of IV fluids will improve in early 2018 based on the information we are receiving from the manufacturers,” according to the FDA’s latest statement.  

Locally, hospitals and doctors within the Hartford Healthcare network are monitoring supply and need, and also talking to manufacturers. They are sharing supplies as needed between facilities, and also using alternative treatments that require staff retraining. MidState Medical Center in Meriden and the Bradley Memorial Campus in Southington are part of the Hartford Healthcare network.

“We meet two times a week with the pharmacy and the supply chain,” Arlia said.

Hospital administrators have also met with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal to explain the challenges.

“We’re asking what can be done to speed recovery of manufacturing and repair the island’s ailing infrastructure,” Blumenthal said. 

Further complicating matters, a second supplier –  Braun Medical Inc. –  was forced to shut down its plant in California three weeks ago for repairs. A third manufacturer, Hosperia, was recently sold to ICU Medical.

“What we really need in this country is more redundancy,” Arlia said. “Things happen. It’s a setup for failure.”

Masonicare in Wallingford is also feeling the pinch as manufacturers ration the supply.

“The shortage is real and a concern to all providers,” said Masonicare spokeswoman Margaret Steeves. “We are fortunate that we have been able to meet our needs and patient care has not been affected; nevertheless, we are watching it very, very closely.”

The Connecticut Hospital Association is also monitoring the situation.

“The FDA has indicated the supply problem should be resolving soon,” said CHA spokeswoman Michele Sharp. “The bulk supply of this product is essentially outside the control of hospitals and healthcare providers.”


Twitter: @Cconnbiz


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