Utahns and people across the country are searching grocery store shelves to find baby formula amid a national shortage.
How are hospitals, food banks and child care providers in the Beehive State coping? Here is what they told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Hospitals help parents be flexible
After hearing about the shortage, Intermountain Healthcare stopped using the affected powder products and figured out alternatives, according to Becky Hurst-Davis, clinical nutrition manager at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital and a board-certified specialist in pediatric nutrition.
“There are some formulas that are more difficult to order, and we have substitutes and alternatives if we do not have a specific brand/type,” Hurst-Davis said in an email. For most infants in Intermountain’s hospitals, “we are mainly using ready to feed formula and formula concentrates,” she said.
Intermountain Healthcare is working closely with suppliers, Hurst-Davis said, and pediatric providers are following guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics to give parents information about alternative formulas “that would be OK for their infant based on each child’s specific needs.”
“For infants/children on WIC (Women, Infants and Children benefits from the Department of Agriculture), or using an insurance approved home care to supply formula, we try to get them started with formulas that are available,” she said.
University of Utah Health currently has enough formula for what it needs, and the health system hasn’t felt “a significant impact on our supply or ability to provide formula” during the shortage, said Elizabeth Kirts, who manages prenatal education and lactation.
“The biggest impact in the shortage is specialty and powdered formula,” Kirts said. “The majority of our formula use is ready made/liquid formula.”
Both Intermountain and the U. said they generally use Similac products.
“We are very empathetic of the fear and stress that this shortage has on families,” Kirts added. “We are working in collaboration with other organizations to provide accurate education and resources for families who are formula feeding. ... Our lactation teams are prepared to help and support families who may want to work on increasing supply or relactation.”
“Parents should be prepared that they may need to change formulas based on what is available,” Hurst-Davis said, “as well as to plan appropriate back-up products if they cannot find their formula.”
Food banks defer to federal food program
The Utah Food Bank doesn’t have much in the way of baby formula right now, but that’s not unusual.
“It’s not something we typically buy,” said communications director Heidi Cannella. “That’s a resource of WIC. That resource is specifically there for parents.”
The Utah Food Bank cannot accept donated baby formula if it is within three months of its expiration date. “We have to be more careful with expiration dates of baby items than other food,” Cannella said.
And the Utah Food Bank has to inventory and process donations before they can be sent to one of its partner agencies. “We need some lead time with that,” she said. “If someone has baby formula that is expiring soon, I would definitely encourage people to take it directly to their local pantry.”
The Utah Food Bank is not expecting to receive any of the baby formula that the federal government is having shipped to the United States.
WIC clients are in the same position as all other parents who need baby formula — they have to hope that their local grocery stores get supplies in. WIC participants meet with dietitians and are given a customized food package; benefits are programmed to an EBT card; and then they go to grocery stores to purchase their items, including baby formula.
So for them, like everyone else, it’s a case of waiting for formula to be back on grocery store shelves.
The formula that the federal government has flown into the country is hypo-allergenic, and the plan is to distribute it to hospitals, doctors’ offices and pharmacies. “That milk is not coming to grocery stores,” said JoDell Geilmann-Parke, the WIC program vendor coordinator for the state of Utah. “It is going directly to those who are most in need, with significant allergies and sensitivities to cows’ milk proteins.”
And Abbott, the makers of Similac, “have ramped up production of their liquid infant formulas,” which are premixed in a bottle. “So we’re anticipating increased supplies of those ready-to-feed formulas in our grocery stores very soon,” Geilman-Parke said.
Some child care providers are scrambling
It’s been hard to find formula for the five infants who need it at Imagination Time Childcare and Preschool, said Missy Monsivais, the owner.
In fact, it’s been so difficult that Monsivais said she is planning to ship formula to her business, which is located in Marriott-Slaterville, all the way from Germany, where she is currently living with her family for her husband’s job.
“My [food program] coordinator has been following a Facebook group to see when formula is in stock at different stores,” in Utah, Monsivais told The Salt Lake Tribune in a series of texts Monday. “By the time she gets there, it is usually gone.”
Plus, stores are limiting how many cans people can buy, and they are not always selling the larger sizes, she said, “so one can might only last us for one day.”
While Imagination Time generally provides formula for the infants the staff takes care of, parents are having trouble finding formula, too, according to Monsivais. And most of the infants are on specialized formula.
“One mom has sadly asked us to limit formula and supplement with more baby food, even though her child is not ready to advance,” she said.
In Utah, “most providers require the parents to supply the formula,” according to Rebecca Banner, director of Utah’s Office of Child Care. “It is not supplied by the provider unless they participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program,” which “is administered by the Utah State Board of Education ... and reimburses providers for eligible food costs.”
Banner said she recently spoke with a provider who said that formula shortage has had “a big impact on their program.” That provider has been working with USBE to get help from the program, according to Banner, and “parents have been flexible for them using what available formula they have.”
So far, YWCA Utah has had enough formula for their shelter residents who need it, Liz Owens, CEO, said in an email Tuesday. Owens added that “the unfortunate reality is that parents experiencing poverty and communities of color are suffering most from lack of access” during the shortage.
“While many folks have traveled far and wide to find food for their children, many in our community work low-wage jobs and have longer shifts, preventing them from being able to do the same,” Owens said. “Though there are layers to unpack, the end to this shortage cannot come soon enough.”
Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.