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Saline shortage hits UW Hospital

Solutions found in IV fluids and used for many medical purposes in short supply

MADISON, Wis. - 24012000

UW Hospital goes through 60 to 90 cases of saline solution a day. Each case holds eight to ten one-liter bags of the product, which is used on almost every floor of the facility.

Hospital senior vice president and COO Ronald Sliwinski said saline is used to infuse drugs in chemotherapy, treat dialysis, and help surgeons perform successful operations.

A shortage of something that important is certainly noticed.

"The good part about this is we've really alerted, and on a national basis, there are a lot of efforts to ensure that appropriate supplies are getting in to the hospital's hands, so they can maintain business as usual," said Sliwinski.

Sliwinski said the hospital's primary saline suppliers were shut down for preventive maintenance work over the holidays.

The hospital stockpiled saline solutions and IV fluids to overcome that shut down, but they didn't stockpile enough, and with the increased demands that happened on top of that shut down, it put a real crimp in the supply chain.

In addition, the current flu season has brought an increased number of patients. Sliwinski estimated flu admissions drove saline demand up 10% to 12% at UW Hospital compared to normal years.

"Other factors have almost doubled that, so the manufacturers were feeling a pinch, if you will, because the demand rose much more rapidly than they anticipated," Sliwinski said.

Sliwinski said the hospital has enough supplies to maintain care for its patients. He expected consistent supplies of saline to be delivered again in the next 10 to 12 days.

Sliwinski said staff is trying to substitute what they can and prioritizing what facilities need the solution more than others.

"What that has done for us is pull us into a situation where we feel we can continue to move forward with patient care without interruption," Sliwinski said. "We feel confident we have enough supplies on hand to meet demands over the next two to three weeks."

Saint Mary's Hospital's spokesperson said there is no shortage of IV fluids there and the hospital is operating as normal.

Barb Bortner with Mercy Health said in a statement: "Currently, hospitals nationwide are experiencing a shortage of IV saline and lactated ringers solutions. This has not effected patient care at Mercy Health System. We are monitoring the situation and have plans in place if the need arises."

Leah Huibregtse with Meriter said in a statement: "There is an IV supply company called Baxter that had to shut down a production line, which is causing shortages for some hospitals who used Baxter as their main vendor. Meriter uses a different vendor for our IV bags, so we haven't been affected by it."

Baxter is a major supplier to UW Hospital. In a statement, the Illinois-based company's spokesperson said, "In 2013, Baxter increased production capacity of IV solutions by 3% year over year and is investing in capacity to deliver 9% growth in 2014. Baxter is supporting the market to the best of its ability to enable patients to access the therapy they need."

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