U.S. hospitals see IV bag shortage

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COLUMBIA - After-effects of Hurricane Maria are felt far beyond the borders of Puerto Rico as country is a large producer of medical supplies and devices.Hospitals across the United States are seeing a shortage of IV bags.

The VA Hospital pharmacy in Columbia says it has seen low supplies.

"Unfortunately at this time, everyone is in the same boat. Not only VAs but also civilian hospitals," said Glenna Vandergrift of the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veteran's Hospital.

Saline solution bags are used to deliver painkillers, antibiotics and heart drugs. Hospital employees said they are vital to patient care.

"Normal saline is the base fluid that is closest to the PH and composition of blood. So it’s the base fluid that is used almost in all patients that are admitted that need IV fluids," Vandergrift said.

Medical supply manufactur Baxter is the United State's largest supplier of small saline bags. The company has three large factories in Puerto Rico. In the aftermath of the Hurricane Maria, Baxter's production has suffered. It is forced to rely on generators for power and many employees face difficulty commuting to work.

As saline solution bags become more scarce, hospital pharmacies across the United States are turning to other means.

The VA hospital said it has brainstormed alternative methods to deliver medicine.

Referred to as a "last ditch effort" by hospital staff, the VA said it can make its own more concentrated fluid. Staff said they are looking at creative ways to deal with the saline bag shortage.

In-Patient Pharmacy Supervisor Nancy Dietz said the VA hospital is fortunate and is keeping up with the needs of its patients but the shortage has caused concern. 

"People being anxious about what if and making plans," Dietz said. "But we are pretty good about being proactive and knowing what the situation is and how to counteract that.”