ST. GEORGE – Hospitals across the nation are facing a shortage of saline solution since the beginning of the year. However, in Southern Utah, hospital officials and ambulance providers haven’t yet experienced problems in product delivery.
So what’s the big deal?
Saline solution is the clear liquid that comes in bags and is used for patient hydration and as a“drug delivery system,” said Scott Yardley, pharmacy manager for Valley View Medical Center in Cedar City. An example of drug delivery, Yardley said, is medical mixtures like those used in chemotherapy that are mixed and in saline IV bags.
Simply put, saline in the form of IV bags is used on a daily basis by hospitals and emergency ambulance providers.
In December 2013, Baxter International recalled four lots of saline IV bags due to possible contamination. This incident, combined with a higher level of demand potentially connected to the flu season, and the Food and Drug Administration issued a notice it was “aware of the shortage” in January. The FDA is working with the three primary producers of the saline units in the country – Baxter, Hospira, and B. Braun Medical – to keep the supply moving out as much as possible. Arrangements have also been made to import saline from Spain and Norway.
Baxter is not the only company to have issued saline solution recalls in the last seven months. Hospira issued a recall over leaky bags in January, while B. Braun Medical issued a recall in May over possible contamination.
A hiccough in the system can have a big backlash, said Scott Mechan, director of pharmacy for Intermountain Healthcare’s southwest region.
While the shortage has put some hospitals on edge, thus far it hasn’t been an issue in Southern Utah.
“We haven’t had a problem yet,” Yardley said concerning Valley View’s current saline supply.
Supplies and Intermountain Healthcare’s southwest region
Like Valley View, so far Dixie Regional Medical Center has also escaped feeling the pinch of the shortage.
“We haven’t had issues,” Mechan said. There have been some production issues, he said, but overall demand has been the same.
Intermountain Healthcare is contracted with Hospira for its saline supply, said John Taylor, director of supply for Intermountain Healthcare’s southwest region. In order to avoid rush-orders on the product, Hospira fills orders based on allocations devised from a client’s overall order history. This has allowed Intermountain’s allocation to remain consistent, Taylor said.
Intermountain Healthcare also keeps a 30-40 day supply of saline on hand, he said.
Overall, there has been a shortage of particular drugs and medical supplies over the past four-to-five years, Mecham said.
“It will take time to see this one play out,” he said.
Representatives of the Iron County Sheriff Division of Emergency Services said they haven’t seen any major disruption caused by the shortage – yet.
“We got out ahead (of the shortage) and have a considerable supply,” said Iron County Sheriff’s Lt. Jody Edwards, emergency services division. “I know we’re doing good. When our patients need fluids and medicine, we’ll be fine.”
Chris DeLaMare, of Gold Cross Ambulance, said their saline supplies from Salt Lake City to St. George were fine for the time being.
“We make sure all of our divisions are supplied,” DeLaMare said. “We have not gone into any situation (where demand for saline) has not been met.”
However, DeLaMare said he didn’t know how long supplies would be maintained if the shortage becomes longterm.
“As a nation, when we are out, we’re out.”
So far prices of saline remain relatively stable due to contracts between suppliers and purchasers. According to a report from NPR, however, those prices could rise once those contracts are up for renewal.
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