Oct 26, 2021 - Health

Supply chain shortages' latest victim: crutches

Illustration of red crutches in the shape of an x

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An aluminum shortage tied to the global supply chain crunch has led to a new medical supply shortage: crutches.

Why it matters: The latest example of pandemic-spurred medical supply chain problems could become a much bigger problem in the next couple of months which are typically the busiest time of the year for orthopedic surgeries.

  • That's because many people try to squeeze their surgeries before the end of the year before their deductibles reset in January.

Driving the news: Delays due to worker shortages in China's ports are mostly to blame for the backlog, Kim Anders, group vice president for strategic supplier engagement at group purchasing organization Premier told Axios.

  • But, bigger raw material shortages in magnesium, which is used to harden aluminum alloy, could also ripple across the supply chain including the auto and building industries, Bloomberg reported.

State of play: In some places, hospitals have begun asking their communities for donations this month.

  • On Monday, Intermountain Healthcare, University of Utah Health, Steward Health and the Utah Hospital Association announced a donation drive called "LeanOnUtah" to collect metal crutches, walkers, canes and non-motorized wheelchairs, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
  • Joey Kamerath, senior medical director for rehabilitation services at Intermountain Healthcare, said the department's supply chain has run "completely dry," per the Tribune.
  • Earlier this month, Charleston Area Medical Center in West Virginia and Southeast Georgia Health System in Georgia put out similar calls for help in their communities.

The bottom line: "It's hit all suppliers across the board," Anders said.

  • While it originally seemed the supply problem would improve by November, she said it now looks like "December is when we're going to start seeing some relief."
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