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At some U.S. hospitals, drugs, catheters, oxygen tanks run low

by Reuters
Friday, 27 March 2020 22:19 GMT

By Joseph Ax and Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK, March 27 (Reuters) - It's not just protective facemasks that are in short supply: health workers in U.S. hospitals are reporting dwindling stocks of drugs, catheters and other medical miscellany vital for caring for a surge in patients stricken by the coronavirus outbreak.

Marney Gruber, a doctor who works in emergency rooms around New York City, said a number of commonly used medications are in short supply, and at least one hospital had run out of central line kits, which are used to administer drugs to patients in intensive care.

"Never ever before have I heard of that being an issue," Gruber said in an interview on Friday. "These are staples in emergency medicine and ICUs. These are your bread and butter, truly, your very basic essentials."

Hospitals have quickly begun to strain under the surge as the city has become the global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. At least 366 people have died in the city from the virus this month, and more than 4,700 people have been hospitalized.

The drugs running low include midazolam and fentanyl, both of which can be used to sedate patients whose lungs have been damaged by the new virus and need a mechanical ventilator to function, Gruber said.

The hospitals are also short on Levophed, which treats low blood pressure and heart problems, and Albuterol inhalers, which normally treat asthma but appear to help those suffering from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus.

In addition to ventilators, some hospitals are running out of oxygen tanks, Gruber said. Patients normally only use the tanks when being transported from one part of the hospital to another, but with wall-mounted oxygen units all taken, doctors have been hooking COVID-19 patients up to the tanks in intensive care unit rooms.


Shortages of vital protective equipment for health workers, including N95 respirator masks that fit tightly over the nose and mouth, have been widely reported in recent weeks, caused in part by poor stockpiling efforts and by disruptions in global supply chains.

But vanishing supplies of other medical resources are alarming nurses and doctors in hospitals around the country.

Dr. Kent Collin, the medical director at the emergency department of the St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea Hospital in Chelsea, Michigan, sent an email to a neighborhood mailing list soliciting donations of disinfecting wipes, which he said he could pick up from doorsteps.

"If anyone would be willing to part with your Clorox wipes, any help would be appreciated," he wrote. "Costco is completely out at this time or else I would not have bothered you guys."

Mary MacDonald, a nurse at the Ascension Providence Hospital in Novi, Michigan, said tearfully in a video uploaded to Facebook that she was seeing her workplace run out of fentanyl and propofol, another drug used to sedate patients on ventilators, as well as the basic painkiller acetaminophen, commonly known as Tylenol.

"This is truly scary and nobody's taking it seriously," she said.

A spokesman for the hospital did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the hospital told the Detroit News in a statement that it was "taking proactive steps with our distributor and suppliers to ensure access to supplies."

Simpler necessities are running short, too. In New Jersey, Dr. Lisa, who asked to be identified by her first name because she was not authorized to speak with journalists, recalled a kind offer from her aunt to make face masks after reading about the shortages.

Dr. Lisa told her the masks she needs cannot be made, but she could use more scrub caps to protect her hair.

"Well, we can make that," she recalled her aunt saying. "We know how to sew. Send me a pattern."

Within five minutes, her aunt had recruited other relatives to pitch in, and they mailed out 10 homemade scrub hats for her and her co-workers.

"That's the beauty that you see in people," Dr. Lisa said.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax and Jonathan Allen; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Ross Colvin and Aurora Ellis)

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