KANSAS CITY, Mo — Community members are working to help Kansas City area mothers keep their babies fed, amid a nationwide baby formula shortage, and after Saint Luke’s Heart of America Mother's Milk Bank in Kansas City, Missouri, closed down earlier this year due to staffing issues.
“Like many areas of health care, the pandemic created a critical gap of qualified potential employees — staffing of the milk bank required individuals with highly specialized training and expertise to help ensure the rigorous quality and safety standards were met," Saint Luke's told KSHB 41 News. "This shortage and the availability of other Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) milk banks led to the decision to close."
Despite the permanent closure, Saint Luke's says families in Kansas and Missouri are being taken care of, thanks to milk banks across states like Oklahoma and Colorado.
"Saint Luke’s continues to partner with HMBANA to supply breast milk for NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) babies and continues to connect donors and milk depots with other HMBANA milk banks to ensure moms in the region can still donate breast milk for babies in need,” Saint Luke's said.
Becky Mannel, the Executive Director of Oklahoma Mothers Milk Bank, says the KC region’s milk bank closure was unique, since that's never happened before.
“They made the decision to shut down and so we had already been working closely with the Kansas City milk bank to cover the gap for them,” Mannel said.
Mannel says demand is being met, but the ongoing formula shortageis putting pressure on her team. Call volume has increased, and her milk bank and others are in need of more breast milk donations.
“One of the challenges, especially with our current formula shortage and formula crisis, is with babies in the community that may have a medical need for milk, so certainly the demand has been skyrocketing,” Mannel said. "We need more donors so that we can continue to meet that need, and as we expand to hospitals in the Kansas City area and Kansas and Missouri, then we need more donors from those areas as well.”
The Human Association of North America Association says inquiries from parents wanting to fill the formula gap are up 20% in recent days.
The Human Milk Banking Association says they are working with KU Health System to set up depo sites, but for right now their official sites are the Andrew County Health Department in Savannah, Missouri, and the Flint Hills Mothers Milk Depot in Manhattan, Kansas.
Dr. Lauren Hughes with Bloom Pediatrics and Lactation in Roeland Park heard about the closure of the St. Luke’s Milk Bank and decided to start her own. Dr. Hughes' bank is not affiliated with Human Milk Banking Association of North America, but she’s a lactation consultant and screens mothers who want to donate milk and conducts several lab tests to ensure the milk is safe to use.
“This has been the two conundrums of 'I have too much milk, or I don't make enough milk, or I don't have any milk,' and this way we can either use a middleman and combine those two sides,” Dr. Hughes said.
Milk with Dr. Hughes can be purchased at $1.50 an ounce. The bank has been open for less than a month and already 250 ounces of breast milk have been collected.
Dr. Hughes says families who have infants under three months or a baby with a compromised immune system are given priority. Nonprofit milk banks also prioritize families, but if parents are interested in trying breast milk, they can call milk banks to see if they are eligible.
“It is a way you can feel more comfortable that what you're getting is safe breast milk and does not have anything dangerous but it is available to anyone in the community,” Dr. Hughes said.