COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The U.S. healthcare system is on the brink of a "significant public health crisis," according to a conglomeration of medical associations, in a letter to ranking members of congress, including Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette, who sits on the Health Subcommittee.
And one of the most commonly-used IV fluid -- saline -- is at critically low levels, nationwide.
Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico, is to blame. Baxter, one of the major manufacturerers of the small 50mL and 100mL saline bags, was crippled in the storm. A large portion of the inventory that was stored at the site was destroyed.
The small-sized bags are used to most commonly deliver antibiotics, electrolytes, and potassium, calcium and magnesium.
"Normal saline to a hospital is like grease is to the mechanic," said Chris Martin, Pharmacy Manager and UCHealth Memorial Hospital. "It's vital to our business and vital to taking care of our patients. But when a product like this goes off the market, we see it cascade into other product lines."
The shortage sent many hospitals scrambling for larger saline bags -- which then became difficult to acquire, as did empty small bags.
Making saline -- as simple as it may seem -- isn't.
"I've heard it said, 'Why can't you take table salt and water and make saline?' The answer to that is that won't be pure enough, that won't be sterile enough to be infused directly into somebody's veins," said Martin. Even in the most sterline of environments, would also be a 24/7 operation.
It all means nursing staff has had to switch how certain drugs are administered, from an IV drip to what's called an IV push. But that requires staff to manually push syringes through an IV line, which takes added time and manpower.
Saline levels should be back to normal in Spring of 2018.
The shortage just doesn't affect saline. The FDA's list of drug shortages is nothing short of eye-popping, which pharmacy managers call "dangerously fragile." Some blame it on the conglomeration of pharmeceutical companies.
KRDO NewsChannel 13 asked Rep. DeGette for a response to the letter, and as of Friday evening did not hear from the Congresswoman.