Shortages of products and supplies that were once taken for granted have been commonplace during the pandemic. Toilet paper, computer chips, cars, lumber, and pet food have all been on the list of shortages.
But a shortage of medical supplies creates problems that go far beyond the inconvenience.
Unity’s Penny Picard Sampson is among those who have struggled to find the medical supplies that would help her get through the day. Sampson, 54, began suffering from diverticulitis almost 20 years ago, a disease that causes an infection in the digestive tract.
Over the years, this has caused big complications, including chronic yeast infections on her skin and fistulas, or holes in her abdomen, which leak fluids all the time.
Sampson bandages her stomach daily with a sterile, absorbent bandage that allows her to be as active as possible and do her job as a city municipal officer. Recently, however, it has been difficult to find enough of the supplies she needs.
A few weeks ago, she ran away.
“At this point it’s a matter of ‘Okay, what napkins do I cut up’,” she said. “While people worry about their Christmas toys, I worry about my medical supplies. ”
For Sampson and others who can’t find the supplies they need, from wheelchairs to band-aids, this shortage can affect their mobility, independence and quality of life.
It is a national problem that is played out in all states. In Utah, hospitals are collecting used crutches, walkers and canes to fill the shortage caused by supply chain issues. A Michigan pharmacy is struggling to get enough inhalers for its customers. And a recall of CPAP and other machines made by Philips Respironics has left millions of people with sleep apnea scrambling to find alternatives.
Examination tables, heart defibrillators, some prescription drugs, IV fluids and wheelchairs – and much more – have also been trapped in supply chain issues.
“It’s a problem,” said Claude Levesque, owner of Care Services Co. in Palmyra. “We didn’t feel it that much last year. This year it’s really starting to get bad. There are some items that we just can’t get anymore.
And that’s a concern, as his company is the leading supplier of custom power wheelchairs in Maine. If they can’t get items, it means some Mainers might have a harder time moving than they normally would.
Custom wheelchairs can be complex machines made up of many different components manufactured in many places, including overseas. If a part is not available, the article is incomplete, he said.
When commands can be filled, it also takes much longer than before.
“In the past, once we got approval [from an insurer], we ordered it and would receive it in about two weeks, ”said Levesque. “Now those two weeks can extend to two months.”
Shortages and delays are stressors that affect people’s lives, he said.
“Everyone is feeling the pinch,” said Lévesque.
Supply chain issues not only make it difficult to obtain durable medical equipment and home health supplies. It also affects medical supplies used in hospitals, according to Matt Marston, vice president of pharmacy at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, 109 drugs are listed in shortage nationwide, and the American Medical Association calls the shortage an urgent public health crisis that threatens patient care and safety.
“We are seeing, just like the rest of the country, shortages of benefits and drugs,” said Marston. “COVID-19 has had an impact on the volume of inpatients and the supply chain has been constrained. ”
It has been difficult for pharmacists to find enough electrolyte solutions, pain management products, anesthetics and IV solutions for patients in need.
“It had quite a broad reach,” he said. “It was difficult to predict what the next shortage will be at any given time. ”