Corridor hospitals, dialysis centers deal with dwindling saline supplies

Increased demand, flu season put strain on hospitals

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Hospitals and dialysis centers around the country and in the Corridor are experiencing a shortage of intravenous saline, a solution used to treat dehydration.

A statement on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's website linked the shortage to a "range of factors, including a reported increased demand by hospitals, potentially related to the flu season."

According to the Washington Post, Valerie Jensen, associate director of the drug shortages program at the FDA, said that the FDA has received notices from "dozens of hospitals" each week about low supplies of IV saline since mid-January. FDA officials have not heard of any facilities running out of saline, "but we know that hospitals are still reporting that they may only have a few days' supply."

Here in the Corridor, Mercy Medical Center, UnityPoint- St. Luke's Hospital and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics' dialysis centers have all reported low supplies.

Karen Vander Sanden, spokeswoman for Mercy Medical Center, said the hospital's materials management department has had a challenge keeping its saline supplies stocked. It's regular supplier, Baxter Healthcare Corp., has not been making the product for several weeks, she said in an e-mail.

"Therefore, we’ve sought out other major suppliers around the country to cover our needs for the past two to three weeks," Vnder Sanden said. "Patient care has not been compromised, and we have not had to change our way of operating."

According to the FDA, it is working with the country's three saline manufacturers, Baxter Healthcare, B.Braun Medical Inc. and Hospira Inc., to help preserve the supply of these necessary products. "Addressing this shortage will depend on the increased demand and the manufacturing production of the current suppliers. Millions of these I.V. solutions are used each week by health care professionals," it said.

Baxter spokeswoman Deborah Spak told the Washington Post that the company has increased its output and is managing inventory to supply customers with the most critical needs. It has notified customers that normal production should be in place by the second quarter of the year.

"We've had to get creative to avoid depletion," said Rebecca O'Rourke, the administrator for the UIHC's dialysis centers. The dialysis centers also use Baxter Healthcare to supply its saline.

O'Rourke, who oversees the organization's five out patient centers in Iowa City, North Liberty, Muscatine, Grinnell and Washington, said she has had to move supplies around from center to center depending on which center is well stocked and which is running low. She said the dialysis centers are also exploring other alternatives to use instead of saline.

UIHC dialysis centers use about 550 bags each week. She generally likes to have a three-week supply on hand at each center but currently only has one week's worth of saline stocked.

"Deliveries or orders are delayed or they will split up our orders, for instance they'll only send half," she said.

Pat Thies, administrative director for St. Luke's medical affairs and pharmacy services department, said the hospital is seeing lower supplies than normal but nothing that can be felt at the patient level. To deal with the shortage, it is using saline bags smaller than the traditional 1 liter bag or bags with a saline-dextrose (sugar) combination when able in order to conserve its supply.

St. Luke's currently has a 5- to 7-day supply on its shelves, Thies said, but the "forecast is bleak."

"Our supply chain could be depleted in the next two to three weeks," he said.

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