Waiting for 72 minutes and customer service reps apologizing: Testing the Biden administration’s new website resources for parents looking for a baby formula | CNN Politics



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The Biden administration is facing a barrage of questions and criticism over the national formula shortage that has anxious and angry parents jumping from store to store in search of baby food.

The White House was unable to state federal guidelines last Thursday on what parents who are struggling to find formula should do, and recommended families contact their doctors and pediatricians if they are unsure. worried about the health of their baby. Then on Friday, it unveiled a new website: HHS.gov/formula.

“We recognize that parents have a lot of questions,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. The new website, she said, aims to provide “resources and places parents can go to get formula, including contact with businesses, food banks (and) health care providers. Health care”.

The webpage lists contact details for a number of baby food makers, including Gerber, Reckitt and Abbott – the company at the center of major recalls dating back to February that caused the nationwide shortage. The site also directs families to resources such as local food banks, links to the National Nutrition Assistance Program website known as “WIC”, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, and offers general safety instructions. (No, you shouldn’t water down formula or try to make it at home.)

A CNN reporter tested some of these resources to try to determine how useful they might be for parents desperate to get formula. The exercise resulted in apologetic customer service representatives, a wait time that lasted well over an hour, and serious challenges finding formula through some of the top suggestions listed on the new site. HHS website.

We first tried calling the 1-800 hotline for Abbott, the formula maker behind brands like Similac and EleCare. The formula made at the Michigan manufacturer’s plant was linked to childhood illnesses and deaths, and it could be several more weeks before the plant produces formula again.

An automated message said information about Abbott’s recall can be found at Similacrecall.com, which doesn’t appear to have too much information other than recall notices from February. When a representative called, he too told us that Abbott’s website would have “the most up-to-date information”.

Are they able to answer all questions over the phone? “No, we don’t,” the rep said.

Bottom line: Abbott’s hotline doesn’t seem like a surefire way for parents to get their hands on formula.

Meanwhile, Abbott’s “urgent product request line” — also listed on the HHS website — requires a pediatrician to fax a form, along with a doctor’s prescription, to Abbott.

Abbott Nutrition said in a statement Friday that all of its other production facilities were operating at full capacity. The company said that since February it had imported “millions of boxes” of powdered infant formula into the United States from its factory in Cootehill, Ireland. They also converted other manufacturing lines to a production facility in Columbus, Ohio to manufacture more ready-to-use Similac liquid formulas.

This option could push some anxious parents over the edge.

Reckitt is the company that makes the popular Enfamil infant formula brand. As soon as we called the 1-800 number, we were notified that they were experiencing longer than normal wait times. The elevator music on hold is punctuated – every 30 seconds – by a female voice that says, “Please stay on the line. An expert will be with you shortly.

On a Friday afternoon, our total wait time was an hour and 12 minutes before a customer service representative picked up. Is this waiting time normal? It’s these days, she said, saying the company was facing significant wait times due to nationwide formula shortages.

The rep offered to help look on the company’s website to see what might be available for purchase.

The conclusion: “It seems that we have no products in stock.” Nothing? “We sold.”

She added that she also couldn’t predict when the products will be available again on their website, and also warned that if you try to place an order online, it could be automatically cancelled.

After this story was published Monday morning, a representative for Reckitt told CNN in a statement, “We understand how stressful this is for parents and fully understand the importance of our role as the sole source of nutrition for many Since the recall, we have increased our resources for online and telephone support, but unfortunately the surge in requests is significant.

They also recommended parents try the Enfamil.com website as well as “smaller grocery stores they don’t normally shop at” to research what might be in stock.

The third company the HHS website recommends trying is Gerber. It says the company’s “MyGerber Baby Expert” offers several ways – phone, text, online chat and more – for parents to connect with consultants who can help “identify a similar formula that might be more easily available”.

We are trying to text. A representative is able to recommend several Gerber products similar to a certain line of Similac formulas, but the bad news is that they are both out of stock on their website.

“I understand and I’m so sorry :(” they wrote. “These are unforeseen times right now and the team is working hard to get the product on the shelves.”

The webchat gives a similar answer. “My heart goes out to you in these times,” the rep wrote. Gerber is working around the clock to get the formula on the shelves, they said, but these are indeed unforeseen circumstances.

When we called Gerber’s 1-800 number, we were able to reach a representative on the phone without delay. They were able to point us to some formula products for infants and toddlers.

Over the weekend, the company’s website appeared to show that out of 24 different formula lines, 16 were out of stock. Gerber told CNN on Friday that he had increased production and accelerated efforts to get more infant formula to market amid the shortage in the United States. The company said it was operating factories at full capacity and had transported products made outside the country to expedite availability.

The HHS.gov/formula website also suggests that families approach local food banks, food pantries and charities that may be able to help.

It also contains links to the WIC Federal Benefits website. Half of infant formula in the United States is purchased using these benefits, and the administration said it is working to expand the range of formula brands that can be purchased using the WIC. .

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