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Devastation in Puerto Rico Impacting Nationwide IV Solution

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WESLACO – Months after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, the effects are being felt in the Rio Grande Valley.

The supply of IV bags available to some Valley medical suppliers is impacted. A top manufacturer of IV solutions is not fully functional.

Rain from Hurricane Maria may not have reached the Valley, but the effects of a damaged medical manufacturer did.

In a Valley pharmacy CHANNEL 5 NEWS visited, most are unaffected by what happened hundreds of miles away in Puerto Rico.

There's a higher demand for a product many use yet few have heard about.

In the back rooms, the shortage of IV bags and amino acids are something pharmacists won't stop thinking about.

Pharmacist Jaime Soliz at Lee's Pharmacy said, "Every day I'm checking our wholesaler system to see what's available."

He's seeing red, literally. Ever since the hurricane, each of the products highlighted in red in the wholesaler's inventory means they are not available.

"They have one available that I could order, and they're also limiting just one if I order it," he explains.

IV bags with saline solution help treat anything from dehydration to chemotherapy.

Amino acids help with outpatient treatment for nutritional support. Both are in back-order.

"So you can imagine, if it's not available, it affects everyone across the board from dentists, physicians, clinics, hospitals, outpatient centers, everyone is affected due to this shortage," said Soliz.

Rapid Home Health Director of Nursing Jeff Woods says the current depletion has not reached them.

He's seen shortages in the past when they had to resort to other options.

"No, we haven't had to do it as of yet," he affirms.

Other options for nurses treating patients at home include administering medicine orally or through injection. Options are restricted to those working emergencies.

Almost a hundred calls come in every day to the South Texas Emergency Care Foundation serving the Harlingen area.

Rene Perez, the director of patient transport services, said, "If we get to an auto accident and there's been a large loss of blood. Then the patient is going to require IV fluids."

These patients calling in with an emergency can't take medicine orally. Often paramedics will use an IV to stabilize a patient.

Right now, they're being conservative in IV fluid use.

"Size does matter because there could be a lot of waste. If I use this bag, on a patient that only needs this size, then I'm wasting a lot of fluids," Perez explains.

Smaller bags cost more than larger basic saline solutions. The smaller bags are used for dispensing antibiotics.

At this time, they'll resort to opening up an IV line that uses a lot less saline solution.

"You wouldn't use much fluid; it would just be this part," Perez said.

The problem traces back to Baxter, one of the major suppliers. It has three plants affected by Maria. They have plants nationally and beyond.

Due to the shortage of supply, Baxter has sent out notifications to pharmacies and other clients letting them know they have special permission from the government to import their own products from plants in Mexico.

Soliz suspected this would happen, so he stocked up.

He shows us, "We have all of these boxes here; they're all full of IV types of medications."

The preparation helps set some at ease. Soliz said they are stocked up for the next month and a half.

Hospitals get priority when buying supplies. In times like these, the pharmacy, home health agencies, and EMS services are relying on a close partnership with Valley hospitals to ensure resources are shared and the patient isn't affected.

Soliz adds, "I don't want people to panic, but we do need to prepare and anticipate if there's going to be any shortages in the therapy."

They told CHANNEL 5 NEWS they're continuing to prepare in advance while they wait for production to increase.

Baxter has facilities in Ireland, Australia, Canada, Mexico and England.

They have received permission from the FDA to import their products from those plants temporarily.

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