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Nationwide Surgical Gown Shortage Affects Local Family

NEWTON (CBS) - A nationwide shortage of hospital gowns is having a trickle down impact on patients.

It was a shocking diagnosis for a local family, when Adam's father-in-law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on January 7. Adam has asked WBZ to withhold his family's last name. "[The diagnosis] was brutal," he said. "Pancreatic cancer is painful. It's something that no one expects."

At the family's first oncology appointment at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, the doctor told them to schedule a procedure immediately for their father to have a chemotherapy port installed. Then they say the receptionist told them the surprising news: there might be a two week delay on the procedure.

Adam explained his emotions in that moment. "Anger first and foremost," he said. "It was something so simple."

The simple reason? A nationwide hold on a popular brand of surgical gowns, the sterile garment worn by surgeons to protect both themselves and patients from the transfer of any bacteria or other harmful matter.

READ: Letter From Cardinal Health

The company, Cardinal Health, asked providers around January 12th to stop using a specific "Level 3" gown because of "…quality issues identified at [a] contract manufacturer's facility." The company is planning a recall with the FDA on the product and says at the moment, it "cannot provide sterility assurances" with regards to the gowns or the packages in which they come.

"We also understand this issue may already be impacting patient care at health care facilities, such as the cancellation of non-elective surgeries," the FDA added in a statement. "There are very real consequences that medical device supply chain disruptions can have on patients."

The potential for a procedural delay for his father-in-law came as a shock to Adam and his family, already struggling with a difficult diagnosis. "How do you – what do you do with that information? You're told 'we need to start this now' and then you're told 'oh no we can't really do anything,'" he explained.

partners letter
Letter from Partners HealthCare (Click to enlarge)

Adam and his wife say they pushed the hospital for a faster procedure for his sick father-in-law, and they were successful. His chemotherapy port was installed on Wednesday, January 15. It was a huge relief for the family, but it was the lack of information about that product hold and a potential delay that didn't sit well. "That's not something you would ever anticipate or think about," Adam said. "The lack of information is what's killing me. It's not a very transparent process… to the end user, the customer – the patient."

Partners Healthcare, the nonprofit that runs Newton-Wellesley and several other Boston hospitals, said in a letter to its employees, "We are taking this situation -- which is impacting thousands of hospitals across the country -- very seriously…We have secured additional gowns to support our hospitals and minimize any impact to our patients…To date, we are not aware of any patient harm associated with this event."

Adam considers his family lucky, because his father-in-law got the treatment he needed. In other parts of the country, like western Pennsylvania, hospitals canceled and rescheduled elective, non-emergency surgeries because of the issue.

"It was shocking to know there are other people who could be impacted by this and they don't know," Adam said. "They're getting told their surgery is getting delayed for two weeks and they don't know why."

There is no word from Cardinal Health or the FDA yet on when the issue will be resolved.

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