Medical Device Industry Takes Hit with Hurricane Damage in Puerto Rico

Posted October 10, 2017

Medical device manufacturers are calling on federal officials to help mitigate disruptions to the supply chain following Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico after making landfall on Sept. 20. In a letter, AdvaMed, a trade group that represents more than 20 medical technology manufacturers on the island, asked the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) to “prioritize” medical device manufacturers as power and communications services are restored.

“We want to make sure we’re in the queue in terms of priority,” Greg Crist, a spokesman for AdvaMed, told The New York Times. “Because if there is an electricity shortage well into November, for example, how can we as an industry make sure we are in line for those priorities, once you’ve taken care of hospitals and essential needs?”

Puerto Rico is home to about 30 plants that make medical devices, according to CNN, producing everything from heart valves, pacemakers, and defibrillators to advanced cancer diagnostics.

With major news outlets reporting that roughly 90% of the U.S. commonwealth remained without power two weeks after the storm, medical device companies continue to confront a range of obstacles, according to The New York Times: locating enough diesel fuel for generators to run their factories, helping employees get to work from areas where roads are damaged and blocked, and restoring the power grid and phone lines.

“Even the facilities that sustained relatively minor damage are running on generator power,” Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. “They could be without commercial power for months while crews work to restore stable power to the island. The generators allowed many facilities to re-start production, but certainly not all.”

Boston Scientific told the Minneapolis StarTribune that it was able to restart manufacturing operations in the Puerto Rican municipality of Dorado the week after the storm hit. This plant produces most of the thin implantable wires, called leads, that are used to connect the company’s pacemakers and implantable defibrillators to a patient’s heart.

“The plant is operational, and all commercial product lines were re-established, with a focus on high-volume products,” company spokeswoman Kate Haranis said in an statement to the newspaper. “Full [production] volume will also require restoration of the electric grid, but we are able to run production on our backup generators and are optimistic we can minimize customer impact.”

Abbott Laboratories’ manufacturing facilities on the island are also “largely functional” at this point, according to the StarTribune. “Our goal is to maintain supply of our products for the people who need them. No inventory was lost due to the storm. We continue to closely monitor the situation,” Abbott spokesman Scott Stoffel told reporters.

The FDA assured industry―and the public―that getting Puerto Rico’s medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturers back online was a top priority.

“Securing this manufacturing base is vital to maintaining access to many important medical products,” Gottlieb said. “This will be a long recovery. The devastation was significant. But we're in this for the long run. We'll continue to partner with the people of Puerto Rico to help them recover, and secure their economic future.”