IV bag shortages have hospitals scrambling to treat flu

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- As more people are being infected with the flu, hospitals across the nation are scrambling to secure supplies of fluids and medicine used to treat patients intravenously.

The IV bag shortage has caused headaches for administrators at the University of Kansas Hospital.

"A lot of people don’t really understand what goes on behind the scenes," said Lester McRae, the hospital's pharmacy purchasing coordinator. "We have a purchasing staff, we have a whole team of people in production, some of our operations managers. We have a team of people that get together once a week and discuss the plan. I don’t know how we are going to deal with shortages."

Most of the sterile solutions used to treat patients in American hospitals come from manufacturing plants in Puerto Rico.

And ever since Hurricane Maria devastated that island, IV solutions have been in short supply.

The University of Kansas Hospital goes through 60 cases of one liter bags of saline solution every 24 hours.

The shortage left purchasing agents scrambling to make sure the hospital maintained supplies of IV bags it has to have for patients.

At one time, the hospital says it paid ten times the normal price to make sure it stocked an adequate supply of intravenous solutions, as the flu season shifts into high gear.

"We had to seek out alternate suppliers, which as a result of doing that we had to pay higher prices, which the hospital absorbed the cost," McRae said. "We did not pass it on to the patients."

McRae says the hospital is always dealing with drug shortages, IV solutions are just the latest example. He has a team of staff that meets once a week to discuss shortages and take action to ensure the hospital never has to do without.

Other hospitals, including Truman Medical Center and HCA Midwest also are coping with the IV shortage. In a prepared statement HCA says: "We have successfully maintained an adequate supply of fluids utilizing all available vendors and converting to alternative products when clinically appropriate."