Hospitals, pharmacies work to overcome drug shortages from Maria

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(KMVT/KSVT) Jaime Oneida walked through the supply shelves of North Canyon Medical Center checking for gaps.

He said they are in pretty good shape, noting a few holes where the shelves could be fuller, but overall they are keeping up with what some pharmacists are calling one of the worst shortages they’ve seen.

Oneida said the shortage has been going off and on since 2015. Since then he said the demand has gone up, and it is spread between only three manufacturers in the U.S.

One of those plants announced it would be closing late last year to upgrade the facility. Oneida ordered more normal saline, the common base for IV drugs, to make it through the closure.

That’s when the hurricane hit.

Hurricane Maria closed one of the two functioning plants that manufactures the normal-saline solution bags. Since then it has become increasingly difficult to stay on top of the demand on the hospital’s side.

“It’s a big deal, because sodium chloride (normal saline) is really the primary IV solution that most patients use when they come to a hospital,” Oneida said.

When there’s none to give, he said, that really hinders the ability to give good care to patients.

But Oneida said it hasn’t affected patient care, and he thinks they can stay ahead of the shortage until the plant closed for maintenance opens again. However the plant already pushed their opening date back from the original projection, from late 2017 to March. If the date is pushed back again, Oneida said the hospital may have to reevaluate its plan.

Trevor Dschaak thinks the shortages could last much longer.

Dschaak is a pharmacist and the pharmacy director at Cassia Regional Hospital, and he’s heard restoration dates as late as the first quarter of 2019, and those shortages affect more than normal saline and more than one plant.

“With the hurricane, some different manufacturing plants going down, it seems like every week there’s a new shortage,” he said.

He said the pharmacy has had to “get creative” to manage. That includes ordering frozen items and increasing compounding, or preparing medications from scratch.

“It’s a lot of extra work for us, but the patients are getting taken care of,” Dschaak said.

His pharmacy absorbed the extra workload, just like how North Canyon absorbed additional costs. Both hospitals have the same goal: Don’t let this affect the patient.

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