Southern California hospitals brace for impacts of wildfires; Hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico leads to saline shortage

Emergency room doctor physician stethoscope scrubs Getty/gordonsaunders
Southern California's wildfires pose a number of challenges to hospitals in the region. (Getty/gordonsaunders)

As wildfires continue to burn in Southern California, regional hospitals prepare to treat patients who may be harmed by smoke inhalation, and some have been forced to transfer patients to other locations. 

Ojai Valley Community Hospital, located near the epicenter of the fire, transferred 48 patients who would not be able to walk in an emergency evacuation to another facility, according to an article from the Los Angeles Times. Twenty-seven patients remained on-site. 

Other hospitals in Ventura County, where much of the fire rages, have been forced to rely on generator power due to occasional blackouts. Some critically ill patients were also evacuated from Santa Paul Hospital and Ventura County Medical Center. 

UCLA Health treated a 5-year-old who was struggling to breathe the first day the fires broke out, a spokeswoman told the newspaper. Multiple patients with asthma attacks visited Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center for treatment, and patients have also been treated for breathing issues at its urgent care clinics, according to the article. 

RELATED: 3 areas hospitals may overlook in disaster planning 

The blaze is the fifth-largest in the state's history, and has destroyed 234,000 acres in the area southwest of Los Angeles, according to Reuters. Strong winds and low humidity have made it difficult for firefighters to battle the blaze.

The air pollution and health concerns caused by the fires are likely to linger even once the fire is put out, according to a second LA Times report. Health officials in in the southern parts of California now hand out masks to residents and urge people to avoid spending too much time outdoors until the smoke clears.

The smoke is of most concern to some of the area's most vulnerable patients, like the homeless and farm workers, according to PBS News Hour. Health officials have been working to provide protective masks to these people as well, as many have limited access to indoor shelter. 

Hurricane recovery continues as U.S. hospitals face saline shortage 

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico continues to recover from the devastation caused by  Hurricane Maria. But the slow recovery process has hindered the availability of saline and other  medical products for mainland U.S. hospitals, according to a blog post from Nurse.org. 

Many major pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers are located in Puerto Rico, and ongoing power issues have slowed their return to full functionality. 

RELATED: Hurricane aftermath—Damage leads to a shortage of drug supplies from Puerto Rico 

Hospitals on the mainland also urge staff to conserve supplies as they can, according to USA Today. The newspaper obtained an internal memo distributed at Massachusetts General Hospital, which said "although IV fluid shortages have occurred intermittently since 2014, the impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico this fall has greatly exacerbated the situation, given the significant medical products manufacturing industry on the island that sustained damage."

A series of high-power hurricanes also had significant impacts on hospitals in the mainland U.S., including forcing one Houston-area hospital, East Houston Regional Medical Center, to permanently shut its doors

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