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Fargo hospitals weathering national IV bag shortage

FARGO — The Essentia and Sanford health systems in Fargo have not been affected by a national shortage of IV saline fluid bags that's been ongoing since last fall, spokespeople said Thursday, Jan. 4.

North Dakota's emergency medical equipment stockpile in Bismarck has been tapped to help some facilities running low on IV fluid bags, including Trinity Hospital in Minot, but so far, no one has run out.

"Everybody is still getting supply," said George Gerhardt, the Strategic National Stockpile coordinator for the state of North Dakota. "Right now, it's pretty stable and it is functioning ... as close to normal as we can."

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, shortages of IV fluid bags have been intermittent since 2014, but were greatly exacerbated after Hurricanes Maria and Irma pounded Puerto Rico in September, heavily damaging the island's power grid and disrupting production at pharmaceutical manufacturing plants.

The IV fluid bags are used to supply drugs intravenously to patients in hospital and outpatient settings.

"The shortages are very real and impacting everyone across the country. However, here at Essentia, we haven't had any impact on patients," Essentia spokesman Jordan Schroeer said. "Everyone is feeling and working around it. We haven't had to divert any patients away or anything like that."

"Like most other health care systems, Sanford Health has experienced the effects of this nationwide IV fluid shortage. However, our organization's size has allowed us to manage and conserve our supply in a way that hasn't caused any disruption to patient care," said Dr. Allison Suttle, Sanford's chief medical officer.

The Fargo Veterans Affairs hospital has also not been affected by IV fluid bag shortages, spokesman Ross Tweten said.

Gerhardt, who works in the North Dakota Health Department's emergency preparedness and response section, said the shortage of IV fluid bags is expected to end in the first quarter of 2018, as supplies arrive from other plants around the world and Puerto Rican production recovers.

While North Dakota's stockpile of emergency medical equipment includes enough material to start a hospital — there is even an eight-bed emergency room on a semi truck — Gerhardt said that if the IV fluid bag shortage had gotten worse, the state's cache would be gone quickly.

If every hospital and clinic in the state ran out of IV supplies, the emergency cache would "last about a day," perhaps longer with conservation measures, he said.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Health doesn't have a cache of supplies, spokesman Doug Schultz said.

The shortage is viewed as "a private sector issue, supply and distribution issue. We don't have any kind of a stockpile," he said.

Schultz said the Minnesota Health Care Coalition recognizes the shortage "is definitely an issue here. But they haven't requested any help from us, because they are aware that we really don't have any help to give them."

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

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