ATLANTA — Another supply chain issue is affecting healthcare, and it's causing a ripple of responses from hospitals across the U.S.
"It's been two and a half years of supply challenges," Michael McCullough, Wellstar Healthcare's senior vice president of supply chain, told 11Alive. "Over time when it first began, we were all scrambling for PPE or personal protection equipment, but it's evolved into a scramble for many, many products far more than just PPE."
The latest concern affects important medical screening tests, stemming from the temporary shutdown of a GE Healthcare production facility in Shanghai, China.
The closure prompted a global shortage of contrast media, which is a type of dye used in CT scans. The dyes help doctors diagnose medical conditions by highlighting specific organs, blood vessels, or tissues during the test.
The shortage is also causing some hospitals across the country to delay some of the more routine tests and prioritize urgent ones, according to the American Hospital Association.
"While we have been told to expect normal production to resume late next month, hospitals are exploring various conservation strategies including the use of other imaging technologies, using other contrast agents, rationing contrast and ensuring every available drop of contrast dye is used efficiently, and postponing some scans that can be postponed, to give a few examples, in order to continue to provide needed care," Nancy Foster, American Hospital Association’s vice president for quality and patient safety policy, said in a May 10 statement.
11Alive checked with major healthcare systems in the area, and a spokesperson for Emory Healthcare confirmed the issue while adding that hospital teams are working to limit impact.
"Currently, there is a known shortage of X-ray and imaging-based contrast agents in the U.S.," the statement reads in part. "Emory Healthcare is taking proactive measures to minimize the impact on our patients that could result in some non-urgent scans being rescheduled or alternative clinically equivalent imaging procedures being conducted. Surgeries and emergent cases have not been impacted."
Piedmont Healthcare also acknowledged the shortage saying, "While we are not experiencing any issues that are impacting patient care, we are aware of the scarcity in the market, and our supply chain team is working diligently to help us navigate this situation."
Wellstar Health Systems, too, said its current supply chain strategy has prevented any canceled or delayed procedures connected to the contrast media shortage.
"We try and keep...anywhere between 30 and 40 days of stock on many of these high moving critical supplies," McCullough explained, adding the capacity coming from the Shanghai region has been reduced from 100% to 20%.
The plant is supposed to resume full productions by late June.
As hospitals cope with shortages around contrast media, other supplies like IV fluids also continue to be a challenge, according to McCullough.
"It's just a never-ending, evolving series of supply disruptions," he said.
The issue was also raised by Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey during the department's May 10 meeting.
"We have a severe supply chain issue in the state that's clearly affecting everyone in terms of groceries and other kinds of consumables, but it's also affecting medical supplies," Dr. Toomey said.
A spokesperson for Grady Health confirmed the hospital is not impacted by the shortage but did not respond to 11Alive's follow up questions.