HealthCheck

Neo-natal ICUs facing critical shortage

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hospitals across the country are dealing with a critical shortage that's forcing changes in their operations. The shortage is affecting medication in neo-natal intensive care units. So what is causing it, and how doctors are searching for solutions?

Baby Treveon arrived a little early and underweight.

"He arrived October 22," Dunmore said. "He weighed four pounds, four ounces."

New mom Mary Dunmore hasn't left his side.

"I love my baby, I love my first baby," she said.

In the neonatal intensive care unit at Texas Children's Hospital, preemie babies like Treveon are given special intravenous nutrition.

"This is a typical intravenous nutrition bag, and it has in it the sugar and the protein and the minerals and the vitamins that the baby needs," Texas Children's Hospital Dr. Steven Abrams said.

The bags are made specifically for each baby every day in the hospital pharmacy.

"The issue came as a surprise to many of us," Dr. Abrams said.

But it's become a serious challenge for doctors today.

"It's a critical problem for hospitals throughout the country," Dr. Abrams said.

They're stretching each and every dose because hospitals have been hit with shortages in anesthesia and chemo treatments too; in some cases, hospitals are sharing supplies.

"We would like to not have to consider supplies in deciding how much of nutrition to give to the babies," Dr. Abrams said.

The medications that make up the intravenous nutrition are only made by a couple of generic manufacturers that have a low profit margin. Sometimes FDA evaluations have an impact on the speed of production.

Physicians, dieticians and pharmacists at Texas Children's have worked to find alternative solutions.

"Families should know that no one has been harmed by this shortage; we've managed to work together to make solutions, but it's not ideal. We need a long term solution," Dr. Abrams said.

Dr. Abrams says that is in the hands of congress right now; similar versions of House and Senate bills that would mandate that the manufacturers and the FDA clearly identify medicine shortages in advance. There's no mechanism in place to force the manufacturer to make more of the medication.

Dr. Abrams fears if the problem isn't corrected it could become a matter of life and death.

"We were surprised that something as basic as calcium and potassium would actually run in short supply," he said.

As for little Treveon, his mom is counting the days until he can go home.

"The end of this week or next week," Dunmore said.

Click here to see the Senate and House versions of the bill.

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