Recent hurricanes cause pharma shortages nationwide

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

JFK Medical Center says Hurricane Maria hit hard its pharmacy department in Edison leading to a supply shortage. Puerto Rico is home to more than a hundred makers of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies.

It’s been an issue nationwide for hospitals and medical professionals with several health organizations telling Congress, “Drug shortages pose a significant threat to the safety and quality of patient care” and they urged lawmakers to come up with a strategy to manage the shortage. Because so many medical supplies come from Puerto Rico, hospitals say, to a certain extent, they knew what to expect as the storm hit.

Don Ecker directs the supply chain at Holy Name Medical Center.

“It’s been a challenge. We’ve had multiple companies provide back orders,” said Ecker.

Ecker points out what became short supply.

“We knew what was coming and created a task force. We work hand in hand with our pharmacy team to manage the smaller supply bags. They come in one liter bags, they come in 100 and 250 milliliter bags, the smaller supply bags have been challenging. So, we’re breaking down the larger bags and we’re making those smaller bags for injections on the floors. [It had] very little impact on patient care. Our clinicians understand what is being allocated, what we have little bit of supply of, and so we’re managing that internally. So, we’ve had very little impact on patient care,” he continued.

Hospitals also have had to cope with a shortage of tubing for laparoscopic procedures from a Fortune 500 medical technology company.

“They are not providing it, so this is the replacement convent,” said Ecker.

“Nothing was affected by the storm. We’ve been blessed,” said Stephen Albanese, director of strategic sourcing of Atlantic Health System.

Four years ago, Atlantic Health System opened a huge 60,000-square foot warehouse to receive medical supplies, no pharmaceuticals, directly from manufacturers to ship out to its hospitals and hundreds of clinics and doctors in New Jersey.

“It was something that we looked at a few years back, and decided that we wanted to move product and free up space within the facilities for clinical use. Just having this facility, we’re able to buffer ourselves from any catastrophe or most catastrophes I should say out there. We do have what we call island power here, so we can run the entire facility on a generator for an unlimited amount of time as long as natural gas supply continues to flow,” said Albanese.

The FDA and the Department of Energy say they are actively working to address the supply shortages in Puerto Rico by giving priority to restoring power to makers of drugs and medical supplies.