Medical supply shortage blamed on hurricane felt in N.H.

  • A nurse places a patient's chemotherapy medication on an intravenous stand at a hospital in Philadelphia in 2015. AP file

Monitor staff
Saturday, January 13, 2018

More than three months after Hurricane Maria savaged Puerto Rico, medical providers in New Hampshire, like their counterparts around the country, are still scrambling to get certain medical supplies that are  manufactured in that U.S. territory.

“A lot of hospitals are mixing their antibiotics in syringes because they can’t buy empty bags to mix it in,” said Regina Kavadias, director of pharmacy at Concord Hospital.

Kavadias said that while patients haven’t been noticeably affected by shortages, they continue to be a challenge for medical providers.

“It’s a lot of the pharmacy time and energy to deal with it – we’re constantly having to scramble for product or change product to something different. Making new plans, spending more money,” she said. “Right now the critical shortage has been IV solution – dextrose – but it’s been narcotics, IV solution, anesthetics, the lot.”

“It’s the fluid, it’s the packaging; many things,” said Mike Barwell, spokesman for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. “It dated back to last year – there was a chronic shortage anyways, but the hurricane really exacerbated the problem.”

Barwell described some changes that are being made as the facilities are “being cautious and conservative in the use of fluids.”

“For example, rather than oral formulations of medications – rather than do an IV fluid drip – we might use a pill or liquid form,” he said.

The medical community has been dealing with shortages since Maria savaged the Caribbean at the start of October. The giant pharmaceutical firm Baxter has multiple facilities in Puerto Rico, including production of a large portion of bags used for intravenous fluids, but production mostly halted after the hurricane damaged facilities, roads and destroyed the island’s power grid.

More than 100 days later, half the country is still without power and Baxter has not resumed full production.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has allowed imports from Baxter’s production facilities in other countries and some competitors to meet demand, but the flow of supplies remains irregular. The FDA described the situation as “fragile” earlier this month.

“A conversation that I had with the Baxter corporation ... was that the power grid in PR seems to have stabilized so they are starting to bring their manufacturing back online, so they feel like they’ll be starting to make some products again,” Kavadis said. “The original estimate was to be first quarter of this year, but pretty sure they won’t be able to make that.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)