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Florida’s Oxygen Woes Cue Coming Wave of Covid Supply Shortages

Aug. 6, 2021, 9:41 AM

Struggles in Florida to get hospitals enough oxygen for influxes of Covid-19 patients are likely a harbinger of heightened medical supply shortages nationwide as coronavirus cases persist and the delta variant rages.

Health centers in the state are grappling with shortages of drivers who can transport oxygen, a critical resource for hospitalized Covid-19 patients, and restrictions on how long they can be on the road. Industry professionals expect similar obstacles to expand around the U.S. for other essential supplies.

“Transportation disruptions have become a health-care issue,” Michael Einhorn, president and CEO of medical supply distributor Dealmed, said. “We cannot get product quick enough based on these prolonged transportation times and the disruption with the global shipping industry.”

Other obstacles that are more typically seen in medical supplies, like those around production, will also make a resurgence.

Medical supplies have many regulations governing their manufacturing and often are made in just a few places, said Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University.

“The underlying issue is that there’s no give in the system” for health supplies, said Ranney, co-founder of Get Us PPE, an organization that provides personal protective equipment to communities in need at no cost. If there’s just one plant making a generic medication, and that plant can’t find raw materials, the entire country could struggle to get that medication, she said.

‘Random’ Supplies

Medical supply shortages have existed before the pandemic, but the problems have only become more widespread as the virus has ravaged the country and world.

Over the last 18 months, doctors and nurses have struggled to get masks, gowns, and gloves—resorting to wearing trash bags or re-wearing masks for weeks on end. Hospitals have panicked over having enough ventilators for Covid-19 patients, and the federal government has stressed over having enough needles and syringes to vaccinate Americans. Testing sites have also fretted over running out of cotton swabs and labs have seen shortages of pipette tips, which are used to perform Covid-19 tests.

“The health-care supply chain is not healthy,” Einhorn said. There are “hundreds and hundreds of products that are on backorder as we speak, many of them critical,” everything from prefilled syringes of saline to gauze products.

These shortages are likely to become “heightened over the next six to 12 months,” Ranney said.

The types of supplies that could be difficult to get will be “random,” Ranney said. Over the last year, there have been shortages in certain types of tubes used for collecting blood, 18-gauge needles, single dose naloxone—a drug used to reverse overdoses—plastic disposable intubation blades, and intravenous medications, she said.

Personal protective equipment like masks and gowns is “unlikely to be the issue again,” Ranney said. “But if we have domestic manufacturers that are closing, it could potentially put us back in a similar situation again.” Many states and hospitals have developed their own stockpiles of PPE, and the domestic PPE industry has grown considerably since the start of the pandemic.

Even if there are enough supplies, getting them to the right place at the right time could become the bigger problem, Einhorn said. He said that his biggest fear, however, is that China will shut down again, production of medical supplies will stop, and “whatever issues we have right now will be amplified.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Shira Stein in Washington at sstein@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloombergindustry.com; Alexis Kramer at akramer@bloomberglaw.com

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