VERIFY: Did Hurricane Maria cause a nationwide hospital problem?

We check out a claim that there's a shortfall in IV bags because they're made in Puerto Rico.

TAMPA, Fla.  Are hospitals nationwide facing a shortage of intravenous (IV) bags due to damage in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria more than three months ago?

That's the claim made in a California man's tweet last week that went viral:

His tweet was re-tweeted more than 77,000 times since it was posted Dec. 28.

At Tampa General Hospital, boxes of small intravenous bags filled with fluid that can deliver life-saving medications like antibiotics and chemotherapy line the walls and shelves of the facility's massive supply warehouse.

But Dr. Shacreyett Penick, assistant director of pharmacy operations, said that doesn't tell the entire story.

"It does seem like we have a lot of supply, but we care for a lot of patients," Penick said. "We use thousands and thousands of (IV) solutions everyday."

TGH's current supply is roughly 25 percent below normal, said Penick, who added that other hospitals have dealt with a shortage of small IV bags for more than a year due to increased demand, which has caused spot shortages.

"We’ve been managing the shortage of IV solutions for well over a year," she said. "But the impact of the hurricanes this season made it a little more challenging.”

Hurricane Maria impact

Roughly $40 billion worth of pharmaceuticals sold in the U.S. are produced in Puerto Rico, more than any state or territory, according ot the Food and Drug Administration.

Ongoing power outages from Hurricane Maria have interrupted a critical IV bag supply chain. Baxter, one of the United States' largest IV bag suppliers, has several facilities on the island.

The FDA is working to mitigate the shortage by helping Baxter facilitate the temporary importation of bags from the company's facilities in the United Kingdom and Italy, FDA Director Dr. Scott Gottlieb said.

For now, Baxter's three manufacturing facilities on the island have been reconnected to the electric grid, the company said.

"We have in fact increased the amount of certain products available to customers thanks to increased production in Puerto Rico and the special importation products," the company said in a statement. "Overall, we expect to return to more normal supply levels for products made in Puerto Rico in the coming weeks."

The FDA's drug shortage website includes a list of manufacturers with products in shortage, and the current availability and estimated shortage duration for the products. 

Should patients worry?

Penick, TGH's assistant director of pharmacy operations, said patients shouldn't worry.

When possible, Tampa General patients are switched to pills or capsules, or have their necessary drugs and medication injected rather than infused.

The hospital has also contracted with other vendors.

"It hasn’t directly impacted patient care at this time," she said. "We've been able to manage."

Sarasota Medical Center said they've maintained an adequate supply to meet patient needs but continue to monitor the nationwide shortage:

We have dealt with the shortage by changing several practices that reduce our need for and preserve the small bags for patients who need them. In many cases, we have been able to simply change the way we administer some medications - some medications can be administered directly by injection, rather than infusion, or delivered in 250 ml bags, rather than the smaller bags that are in short supply.

10News can verify there is a shortage but it appears patient care has not been compromised so far.

However, it's unclear how long that'll last, given the apparent strain on the system.

The FDA expects the shortage to improve within a few months.

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