The saline IV bag — essentially packaged and sterilized salt water — is among the most commonly provided substances provided to hospital patients, second maybe to Tylenol, said John Armitstead, pharmacy director for Lee Memorial Health System. It’s used to treat dehydration and as a delivery mechanism for intravenous medications.
Shortages have hit some hospitals hard at a time of the year when the number of serious flu cases, which often result in dehydration, are rising. Some hospitals have a few day’s worth of saline on hand, according to national reports.
Lee Memorial, which uses at least 5,000 liters of saline daily at its health centers, has roughly a month’s supply at any given time.
Now, about two weeks into the shortage, it hopes to stretch supplies another five or six weeks, after which time the shortage is expected to have abated.
“We’ve been able to avoid it from being a problem at the patient’s bedside,” Armitstead said. “There are several of us who are scrambling and making arrangements to ensure we have a continuous supply.”
The health system operates nearly 95 percent of the hospital beds in Lee County.
NCH Healthcare System, which runs Collier County’s largest hospitals, is also aware of the problem and “continues to receive normal supply volume,” said spokeswoman Debbie Curry.
“We are aware of the national shortage of saline solution. Purchasing and pharmacy are closely monitoring our supplies and continue to work directly with manufacturers to obtain product allocation and to ensure our needs are met,” a statement she sent said.
Physicians Regional Healthcare System, which operates two Naples-area hospitals, did not respond Friday.
Why the shortage?
U.S. hospitals rely on three manufacturers to get saline: Baxter Healthcare Corp., B.Braun Medical Inc., and Hospira Inc. In recent letters to their customers, all three blamed increased demand. The Food and Drug Administration and other industry observers said this flu season may be driving some of that.
Armitstead, who has never seen such a saline shortage in his 30-plus years in pharmacy, said it’s likely much more complicated. He said an inflexible supply chain and production disruptions may be big factors in this year’s shortages. Baxter, for instance, reported in December a recall of some lots contaminated with “particulate matter.”
The health system pays about $1 per bag of solution, Armitstead said. It might cost the health system about $5 per bag if it made it itself, he said.
The shortages aren’t expected to immediate drive up its costs because the health system’s saline prices are already set forth in a contract with the manufacturer. That’s fortunate for Lee Memorial, given a recent report in USA Today that some IV bags are now going for five or six times that amount.
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