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'Literally every day phones ringing off the hook.' Fayette health workers grapple with baby formula shortage

baby formula
David J. Phillip/AP
Infant formula is stacked on a table during a baby formula drive to help with the shortage Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Houston. Parents seeking baby formula are running into bare supermarket and pharmacy shelves in part because of ongoing supply disruptions and a recent safety recall. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

With the nationwide baby formula shortage now in the headlines, the Fayette County Health Department says it's working to pass along the latest information to the general public. But their main focus is on helping low-income women on the nutrition assistance program known as WIC.

While the issue is only now gaining traction in the media, the formula shortage has kept the phones ringing off the hook in Cristina Hiten's office at the Fayette Health Department since February.

The Nutrition Services Team Leader has been working with WIC program recipients, who face extra barriers when it comes to getting the right formula.

"For example, they have to go to specific vendors and stories who have a contract that will accept WIC cards, so they can't just order off Amazon and use their WIC cards. They can't just go to Target, CVS, or Walgreens because those are not WIC-approved vendors. And so we're working very diligently with them because their resources are going to more limited than the general public."
Christina Hiten with the Fayette County Health Department

Roughly 1,400 infants are currently on the program. And Hiten says the health department's message to their parents is to contact them at (859) 252-2371. The health department has the means to change their food packages. Unfortunately, the state WIC office has said a more permanent fix will take time.

"Some of the products are not going to be 100% available until the end of July and August, so it's not like this is going to be going away any time soon. And I think it's been reported too that it's going to be another 8-10 weeks before we're actually going to see any reprieve from the manufacturers in making more," Hiten cautioned.

As for the general public, the FDA has acknowledged it could take "weeks" for new product to hit the shelves in the U.S., despite a number of new measures meant to streamline the delivery of more formula.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.