Sep 20, 2022 - Health

Minimal disruption to U.S. medical supply chain expected from Hurricane Fiona

The Condado tourist zone in San Juan awoke to a general island power outage Monday after Hurricane Fiona struck the Caribbean nation over the weekend. Photo: Jose Jimenez/Getty Images

Puerto Rico may only be starting to take stock of the damage caused by Hurricane Fiona. But experts tell Axios indications are that medical supplies from plants there won't be disrupted the way they were when another storm ravaged the island in 2017.

Why it matters: A lot of pharmaceutical and medical device production occurs in Puerto Rico. Production problems there can send shocks up and down the U.S. medical supply chain.

  • In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, affecting the availability of such essentials as intravenous bags used in hospitals.

What they're saying: "We don't see any major anticipated impacts in terms of long-term widespread Hurricane Maria-type supply chain disruptions throughout health care at this time," said Kyle MacKinnon, a senior director at Premier, a supply chain and technology company that works with providers.

  • "With the entire blackout on the island in addition to record rainfall on the island, I think the main problem right now is movement, and being able to use the roads or infrastructure," he said.

Be smart: The latest storm could still drive home supply chain challenges exposed by the pandemic and just how vulnerable the island's infrastructure is, Inc. reports.

  • "Health care, in general, on the provider side and on the supplier side, learned a lot from Maria," MacKinnon said.
  • For instance, suppliers Premier works with have invested more heavily in their generators and backup fuel, as well as solar backups. They've also begun keeping inventory in geographically diverse positions in the U.S.
  • "I think what everyone has done is taken a look at how do we not get caught like that again?" he said.

State of play: Medtronic, which has about 7,100 employees in Puerto Rico, is among companies that told Axios they planned to restart full operations on Monday using generator power.

  • Baxter International closed its facilities for inspections and cleaning on Monday and planned to restart operations by Monday evening, Baxter spokeswoman Lauren Russ told Axios in an email.
  • "As the storm approached, we immediately activated our robust hurricane preparedness plans, which are based on our learnings from Hurricane Maria," Russ said. "We can run on generator power for an extended period and have fuel supplies in place," she said.
  • Baxter has "healthy" inventory levels for the majority of products made in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic for U.S. customers, she said.
  • A spokeswoman for Massachusetts-based Boston Scientific, which has more than 800 full-time employees in Puerto Rico, told the Star Tribune its site remains fully functional "though we've scaled back some shifts in light of travel advisories."
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