IV bags scarce, Arkansas hospitals carry on

Factory on island wrecked in storm

Arkansas hospitals say a shortage of IV equipment is the worst they've ever seen but are optimistic it won't prevent patients from getting the care they need.

Hospitals are using syringes, pills and new ready-to-use products instead of IVs whenever possible since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, knocking out a plant operated by the Baxter company that manufactures IV bags and causing a national shortage of IVs.

Earlier this month, the American Hospital Association sent a letter to the FDA and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, asking them to work with manufacturers and find new suppliers to mitigate what they fear is "quickly becoming a crisis and a looming threat to the public's health."

IV bags are filled with salt- or sugar-based solutions to dilute drugs, such as the compounds used in chemotherapy, to levels that allow humans to safely consume them. They allow the drugs to enter a person's bloodstream immediately rather than having to go through the digestive system the way a pill must.

Alternatives to IV bags -- used to administer IV "infusion" -- include syringes, or "push" IVs, that only slightly dilute drugs.

Shortages have occurred before, including in 2014, when the American Hospital Association asked the FDA for help working with manufacturers and finding new suppliers when one or two of the major manufacturers had their supplies disrupted.

"Our clinicians are telling me that it's probably the worst they can remember," said Mark Lowman, a spokesman for Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock.

Dr. Jen Perry, pharmacy director for CHI St. Vincent, said it's the latest in years of worsening drug shortages, commonly blamed on industry consolidation.

"This is the worst situation that I've ever been a part of," she said.

Still, Perry, Lowman and other hospital officials have said they don't anticipate that patients in critical need of IVs won't be able to get them.

CHI St. Vincent in Little Rock is trying to get tablet versions of drugs for patients who are allowed to take oral medications. Hospital officials also have been purchasing at a greater expense bags of drug solutions that don't need to be mixed with an IV solution and are thus ready to use straight from the manufacturer.

Hospitals like St. Vincent and Baptist Health are coordinating among their locations to make sure supplies are sufficient at each location.

Baptist Health has switched drug suppliers and is using more push IVs when possible.

UAMS Medical Center also is using push IVs, spokesman Andrea Peel said.

"We've been able to sustain any shortage at this point," she said.

Metro on 11/19/2017