Officials predicted there would be long-term ripples in the healthcare industry from the devastation endured by Puerto Rico due to the direct hit of Hurricane Maria in September. Those forecasts are coming true with hospitals now scrambling to compensate for severe shortage in intravenous bags, according to new reporting in The Wall Street Journal.
“It’s hard to overstate the public-health crisis,” Craig Frost, vice president of clinical pharmacy services at Catholic Health Initiatives, tells the Journal.
Baxter International, one of the largest manufacturers of saline IV bags, lost power to its production plants located in Puerto Rico. Although the two facilities that manufacture IV bags are back online, the power remains highly undependable nearly four months after the storm. By one estimate, 43 percent of residents in Puerto Rico still don’t have power.
The company insists progress is being made, offering vague assurance it expects “to return to more normal supply levels for products made in Puerto Rico in the coming weeks.”
In an effort to conserve supplies, many hospitals officials are reporting widespread switches to the time-consuming administration of medications using syringes. The domino effect leads to staffs stretched thin and healthcare choices potentially impacted by personnel availability.
The issues would be compounded by any sort of outbreak or other healthcare crisis.
“If the influenza virus or catastrophic event breaks out, that would stress us more. In some ways, it’s unprecedented,” O’Neil Britton, MD, chief medical officer of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston told the Journal. “It raises fear we may have to make choices about not doing some things and delaying elective procedures.”
The FDA has stepped in to try and mitigate the problem, in part by facilitating the import of IV bags from European producers. But some healthcare industry advocates — such as the American Hospital Association — insist a more comprehensive solution should be pursued to lessen the possibility of such shortages in the future, arguing that the manufacture of critical supplies is too often consolidated among a few producers and locales, making the supply chain especially susceptible to disruptions.
Thus far, there’s been scant indication the federal agencies or Congress are invested in developing a more wide-ranging, preventative course of action.