Hospitals facing critical shortage in IV bags

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- As local hospitals experience a surge in flu patients, they're facing a critical shortage in IV fluid bags used to deliver medications and hydrate patients.

"It's a huge impact, and this is a national impact. This is impacting every hospital across the country," said Cleveland Clinic Chief Pharmacy Officer Scott Knoer. "Every patient in every hospital gets IVs, so this has a potential impact for everyone."

While it hasn't yet affected patient care, Knoer said pharmacy technicians are working overtime to compound fluids on their own and prepare alternate delivery methods.

He said nurses are forced to spend up to a half hour manually administering drugs through a syringe, instead of simply hanging an IV bag at a patient's bedside.

"So far, we've been able to get every drug we need to patients; however, we've had to do a tremendous amount of work," Knoer said.

The shortage stems from Hurricane Maria knocking out power to the leading IV supplier's three manufacturing facilities in Puerto Rico. The company, Baxter, said the facilities are back on the grid with backup power, but they are still facing interruptions.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., issued a statement January 4 saying the agency expects the shortage will improve in the weeks ahead.

He said the FDA approved IV saline products from additional companies to help increase supplies, and warned "the production situation in Puerto Rico remains fragile."

The three major Northeast Ohio hospital systems all said the shortage has not affected their patient care.

"We have been very proactive since we became aware of the IV shortage. We quickly established daily briefings with key staff and leadership to keep everyone up-to-date on supply levels," MetroHealth Public and Media Relations Manager Tina Shaerban Arundel said in a statement.

University Hospitals said it is also affected and is working with suppliers.

"Through conservation and alternative sourcing, University Hospitals has been meeting the needs of our patients through the system," spokesperson George Stamatis said.

The Cleveland Clinic uses about 34,000 of the affected IV bags each month, but the impact is likely even greater at smaller hospitals.

Knoer said the shortage is causing a ripple effect in alternate supplies as health systems change practices to accommodate the shortage.

"The concern is how long it goes," he said, noting the Clinic has not seen improvement yet. "It's pretty bad. I'd like to think hospital won't be running out, but I'm not 100 percent confident of that right now. It's not tomorrow, it just depends how long this goes."

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