Hospitals Struggle With Saline Supply Amid Flu Season

The 2018 flu season has put intravenous bags in high demand, but Hurricane Maria in 2017 has made them hard to come by. 

One of the three major IV bag suppliers has a plant in Puerto Rico, and when Maria hit, production slowed for months. It has returned to full capacity, but Hartford Hospital’s Doctor Eric Arlia said that’s not necessarily the point. 

“When something unexpected happens, whether it’s a plant that makes IV fluids or a plant that makes a certain medication if it’s only made in one place in the whole country, there’s very little ability for the supply chain to manage that,” Dr. Arlia said. 

He, his fellow doctors, and U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) want the Food and Drug Administration to acknowledge the lack of redundancy in this part of the industry, and it’s not just saline. 

“We have at least, I’d say, 15 to 20 medications right now that we are unable to obtain in full quantities,” said Dr. Arlia. 

Dr. Arlia believes there’s little incentive for companies to tap into this part of the health industry because, at a dollar or two per bag, the profit margin isn’t much. But the cost, he said, goes beyond the numbers. 

“It just becomes another thing our medical staff has to keep on top of and pick a different medication than what might’ve been their first choice,” said Dr. Arlia. 

He said Hartford Hospital’s alternative methods are just as effective as the ones they’re used to. When one hospital in its network is short on something specific, the others work together to get items where needed. 

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