As COVID-19 cases start to hit record levels across the country, some hospital systems report a shortage of gloves due to overseas supply constraints.
A recent survey from healthcare improvement company Premier Inc. found the item most in demand among hospitals surveyed are exam gloves. At the onset of the pandemic back in March, it was widely reported N95 masks were in shortest supply.
Premier also found that hospitals are still struggling with getting enough supplies overall.
“There is an incredible demand on a supply chain already narrow and not resilient and doesn’t have a lot of redundancy,” said Premier Inc. President Mike Alkire in an interview with Fierce Healthcare. “Prices of products going to stay high as there is far more demand than there is supply.”
At the onset of the pandemic, health systems were scrambling to get all manner of supplies including ventilators, critical drugs and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Since the initial surge, there has been a major emphasis in some health systems on stockpiling supplies to be ready for a second surge to occur this fall. Some systems have also taken to reprocessing single-use PPE like N95 masks that are in short supply.
A survey of 905 hospitals that are members of Premier found 40% are having a shortage of nitrile exam gloves.
The survey found that 28% face a N95 mask shortage, and another 10% need more gowns.
The biggest reason driving the shortage of gloves is that global demand suddenly became high but for the most part production hasn't increased, Alkire said.
“There are countries that historically have never used gloves but are now using gloves,” he said. “There are parts of healthcare infrastructure that never used gloves that are now using gloves.”
He added that most gloves are being produced in China, Malaysia and Thailand.
China about 60 days ago also started to double the price of exam gloves as demand started to increase, Alkire said.
The production problems with gloves point to a greater issue with a supply chain increasingly centered on China, he said.
"We have got to get a huge focus on diversifying that supply chain out of China," he said.
Congress has started to pay attention to the issue. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, introduced a bill that would require any supplies acquired by the Strategic National Stockpile to be made domestically.
“China has laid the groundwork required to dominate the PPE market as part of their effort to maintain a grip on the global public health industrial supply chains,” Graham wrote in a letter to the White House back in July.
Premier and 15 health systems also bought a stake in domestic PPE manufacturer Prestige Ameritech with an eye towards moving more production back to the U.S.