Healthcare providers, already hurting from the lost business during the pandemic, are facing another financial challenge— the increased costs of personal protective equipment.
In April, at the start of the pandemic, the Federal Emergency Management Agency took control of PPE from major medical equipment suppliers to redistribute supplies to hotspots of the virus and add to the federal stockpile.
Suppliers, which used to be able to fill bulk orders in days, now have delays and month-long backlogs. Some healthcare providers in New Hampshire have had to turn to third-party vendors for medical supplies, where quality is inconsistent and prices are orders of magnitude higher.
Steve Ahnen, the president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said in a recent survey, many hospital representatives responded that the PPE access and price were still huge concerns of theirs. Hospitals in New Hampshire have already lost hundreds of millions of dollars due to COVID-19 and overpriced PPE isn’t helping.
“These are the things that keep them up at night and unfortunately, we don’t see an immediate end to that challenge,” he said.
Ahnen said he’s heard anecdotally that price inflation has decreased from 1,000% of the original price to about 400% of the original price. Still, paying any inflated price is unsustainable for a suffering market.
“The cost of acquiring PPE has risen astronomically,” he said. “Hospitals are spending significantly more on the same PPE they’ve been purchasing for years.”
Michael Auerbach, the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Dental Society, said dental practices have faced similar problems acquiring PPE, as many supply chains have dried up.
He said some dentists, faced with backlogs from their usual suppliers, have had to turn to Amazon or Home Depot to order equipment like masks and gowns. Not only are the quantities of supplies much smaller from these vendors but the cost per unit is significantly higher than the practices are used to paying.
“Dental offices are small businesses and they pay for these supplies out of pocket,” he said. “That is challenging, especially when recovering from a two to three-month hiatus.”
He said the state has provided supplies from the stockpile whenever they’re available, but right now, many practices have had to absorb the steep cost of PPE.
Brendan Williams, the president of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, said unlike at the beginning of the pandemic, most protective equipment is now available to nursing homes. Whether or not those supplies are affordable is another question.
“The price has gone through the roof,” Williams said. “It’s accessible, it’s just extremely expensive.”
David Ross, an administrator at Hillsborough County Nursing Home, said gloves used to cost $15.50 a case. Now, a case can range anywhere between $60 and $90. Another administrator from Colonial Poplin Nursing & Rehabilitation Facility in Fremont reported a 467% in the cost of isolation gowns.
Williams suspects the reopening of businesses and schools has increased demand for PPE, which has in turn has driven up prices.
As flu season approaches, Williams fears there will be an even higher demand for PPE which will place a larger financial burden on the nursing homes.
Craig Labore, an administrator at the Grafton County Nursing home, his usual vendors for PPE are still limiting the number of supplies he can order, forcing his facility, in some instances, to turn to the secondary market.
Pre-COVID, Surgical masks used to cost about 8 cents apiece, he said. Now, Labore has seen vendors charge upwards of a dollar per mask, he said in a Senate Committee meeting.