Flu season brings challenges – some expected, others unique

March 3, 2014 by Vickie Anenberg

The flu season has now reached all corners of the country and, in addition to the hardships it brings to the millions who have suffered symptoms, this year's flu is also causing problems for hospitals throughout the United States - some seen annually, others more unique.

A shortage of intravenous saline has hospitals searching for solutions, some asking doctors and nurses to use smaller IV bags or come up with other alternatives. Although the Food and Drug Administration says it does not know of any facilities running out of saline, a number have reported they are down to only a few days' supply.

Suppliers have stepped up production in response to the shortage, after first notifying the FDA a few months ago that delays in filling orders could be expected. However, that was before a sharp increase in demand a few weeks ago, due largely to the flu, which caused the shortage.

At Providence Medford Medical Center in Medford, Ore., an influx of flu patients to the emergency room has caused ER staff to become sick as well, leading to a shortage of doctors and nurses that has forced schedules to be shuffled and some employees to work long hours.

Staffing shortages can often be an issue during flu season and many hospitals now require staff to either be vaccinated or wear masks. However, mandatory vaccinations are controversial. The American Hospital Association recommends its members require vaccination for employees while the American Nurses Association and the National Nurses Union oppose that requirement.