Hawaiʻi Hospitals Are Feeling the Impact of Hurricane Maria

Feb 26, 2018

Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rican streets flooded in some areas.
Credit Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos / Puerto Rico National Guard

The island of Puerto Rico is home to more than 80 pharmaceutical manufacturing plants. Hurricane Maria, which hit late last September, devastated the island and closed those plants. The impact is still affecting the supply of pharmaceuticals and other medical products to the state. From Hawai'i Island, Sherry Bracken has more.

Pharmaceuticals and medical devices are among Puerto Rico’s leading exports, including many of the common drugs and intravenous solutions used in U.S. hospitals. On the Island of Hawai'i, hospitals are feeling the impact. Marilinda Passon is the Pharmacy Manager for Kona Community Hospital.

“Where we are really feeling it, is with intravenous solutions. Saline IVs, dextrose IVs, any kind of iv solution, we’re feeling a definite shortage.”

Passon says if feasible, they’re substituting oral medications for IV solutions. 

Both Passon and Nelson Nako, Pharmacy Manager at Hilo Medical Center, say they’re also mixing and repackaging IV solutions in the pharmacy. Nako says they’re exploring all options.

“They’ve also allowed some products to be brought in from European sources. We’ve always gotten the meds to the patient, that part I don't think is a concern. It does affect the cost.”

Passon explains one reason for the cost concern.

Marilinda Passon is the manager of the Kona Hospital Pharmacy.
Credit Sherry Bracken

“Grey market sellers, legitimate wholesale providers. When something goes into shortage, they gather up a bunch of the medication. They will sell it to you at a grossly inflated price—up to a hundred times what we would normally pay. Most of the time we will pay the higher price just so there’s not an impact to our patients.”

In January, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a statement saying the pharmaceutical plants now had electricity. 

“Those plants have been down for a long time. It’s hot down there, it’s humid, there’s going to be mold issues, those plants are going to have to go through incredible cleaning processes.”

Both managers added that some drugs have actually been in short supply for at least a decade. Why? Passon said one reason is, if drugs are not profitable, manufacturers will just not make them.