Minnesota hospitals deal with shortage of IV bags

A perfect storm of natural disasters and a widespread flu outbreak is causing a shortage of IV bags nationwide, with medical experts in Minnesota monitoring the situation closely in case things continue to get worse.

The Metro Hospital Compact here in Minnesota has been holding meetings to address the issue since at least October 2017, with recent events leading officials to warn that the worst is yet to come.

Several hurricanes affected factories in Puerto Rico that manufacture the small-volume bags used to deliver fluid straight into a patient's bloodstream, with production nearly halted just as demand ramped up in the face of a flu outbreak across the country. Though power is now restored to parts of the U.S. commonwealth and many of the factories are getting back to business, it will take some time to cover the backlog before things return to normal.

The crisis went viral last month when a man tweeted, "My wife's nurse had to stand for 30 mins & administer a drug slowly through a syringe because there are almost no IV bags in the continental U.S. anymore."

Some places are worse than others, however, with places like Boston facing a critical shortage by conserving or substituting a similar method of intravenous fluid administration whenever possible.

Here in Minnesota, the Metro Health Coalition says they're at "contingent capacity"--meaning their current practices are not consistent with hospital guidelines, though care is still roughly equivalent to usual patient care practices.

In the face of these problems, experts say to consider the severity of symptoms before going to the hospital to get checked out.

"If you're sick enough then we want you to come in,"  Allina Health infectious disease specialist Dr. Frank Rhame says. "But if you're just a little sick, we would rather you stay at home."