Saline shortage in Elkhart County felt, but only a little

A national shortage of a common medical supply has been an inconvenience for medical workers, but hasn’t affected patient care, local medical staff say.

Posted on June 24, 2014 at 3:46 p.m.

A national saline shortage has been inconvenient but not life-threatening in Elkhart County, according to local hospitals.

Normal saline, is used for, among other things, to clean wounds, dilute medications and treat dehydration. It’s being rationed by manufacturers and hospitals.

NPR reports the shortage comes from a more intense flu season and increase in demand, and slower production from manufacturers so they can meet delicate FDA standards for sterilization.

Pat Schneider, pharmacy director at IU Health Goshen, said the shortage has been disruptive at the hospital. But he doesn’t think it’s affected patient care.

“We’ve never run out of product, but we have had to make changes to conserve what we do have,” he said. “Probably the most significant thing we’ve had to do is tell the medical staff it’s in short supply and use other solutions where possible.”

That meant changes such as using 250 ml bags of saline instead of liter bags, or combinations of salt and dextrose solutions instead of just saline solutions. Even with the changes, though, sometimes hospital workflow was disrupted. Medical staff had to change 250 ml bags more frequently, Schneider said, because it takes four of those to equal one pint.

But in all, Schneider said the shortage hasn’t affected medical care.

“Those were minimal changes with very little patient impact,” he said.

Maggie Scroope of Beacon Health System said Elkhart General and South Bend Memorial hospitals are working through the shortage along with everyone else.

“We are still able to provide our patients and staff with the materials and medicine they need,” she said in an email. “There is no disruption to service, and patient care is not being affected at this time.”

Manufacturer B. Braun announced to customers May 28 it will increase production gradually over the next three years, but customers should expect intermittent backorders.

During the shortage, manufacturers rationed their shipments based on each hospital’s history of use. Hospitals couldn’t order extra supplies, Schneider said.

“There’s only so much that’s being made,” he said. “So they try to give everybody some instead of giving all of it to certain people while other people run out. They ration it.”

Schneider said he’s heard estimates that the national shortage will trail off in July, but he’s not so sure. The shortage has come and gone since January.

“There’s times where it’s been pretty significant as far as the changes we’ve had to make, and there’s times where it seems to have nearly resolved,” he said. “And you turn right back around and it’s back on us again... For me, it’s over when I don’t have a problem ordering stock.”

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