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Providers scramble amid shortage of enteral formulas

Providers scramble amid shortage of enteral formulas 'It's definitely worrisome when you have one company that can cripple a market like that'

YARMOUTH, Maine – Abbott will increase production of several adult enteral formulas in the retail market to offset low supplies in the institutional market, but providers worry that won’t be enough if a shortage drags on. 

In September, Abbott said it would make Ensure Original Vanilla with Fiber, Ensure Plus Vanilla with Fiber and Nepro Vanilla available for institutional use – and at comparable pricing.  

“It looks like they heard our concerns,” said Bill Fredericks, president and CEO of Allcare Medical Supply in Millbury, Mass. “But we don’t know what that looks like as far as the numbers, so we’re not really sure if we’ll be able to take care of the patients.”  

Abbott had previously notified providers that it had “deprioritized” several institutional formulas, including varieties of Ensure, and could not provide dates when they would be available again. Institutional formulas are available through wholesale distributors and are used by providers for insurance patients, including those on Medicaid. 

With Abbott, the largest maker of formula in the country, saying it doesn’t know when inventory will be replenished – for several items it says “to be determined” – providers say they’re scrambling to make contingency plans. 

“We are trying to map it out internally how we’re going to handle it with patients and guess when we may have product,” said Peter Tallas, CEO of Pembroke, Mass.-based Charm Medical Supply. “We’ve essentially gotten the same message since they started putting out the notices. There’s no straight answer.” 

Formula shortages are nothing new. In 2022, a widespread shortage of infant formula, driven by pandemic-related supply chain shortages and brand recalls, made headlines. It highlights the dangers of one or two manufacturers dominating such a large share of the market, industry stakeholders say. 

“It’ the same stuff we saw with the baby formula recalls, just a different scenario with the adult and senior market,” said Colton Mason, senior vice president at Supreme Medical Fulfillment. “It’s definitely worrisome when you have one company that can cripple a market like that.”

In an emailed statement to HME News, Abbott said: "We’re managing through low inventory of some adult nutritional products that are typically delivered through healthcare providers. In some cases, we are able to offer suitable alternatives from our available inventory. We’ve been communicating regularly with our customers about our inventory status and share alternative options to meet patients’ needs. We expect inventory availability to improve incrementally over the next few months."


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