Hospitals have spent more than $3B on personal protective equipment since COVID-19 began

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic fueled a mad dash for personal protective equipment (PPE) as hospitals and health systems sought to cut down new infections across their workforces and patients.

As a result, hospitals nationwide have spent more than $3 billion on PPE since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new analysis from Premier Inc.

The healthcare improvement company’s data suggest that the spending peaked in the second quarter of 2020, when hospitals ran through an average $20.40 per adjusted acute patient per day for PPE.

This was up from just over $7 per patient per day that the group observed during late 2019, according to the report.

Premier noted hospitals’ early pandemic PPE spending increases were “driven by increased consumption, as well as off-contract buying and PPE bidding wars that occurred as health systems had to compete with federal and state governments and other providers to source limited supplies.”

PPE spending remains above pre-pandemic levels but has “steadily declined” in 2020 and the first three quarters of 2021, Premier wrote.

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In the opening three months of 2021, for instance, the group reported per patient per day PPE spending to be $12.45.

The cost of PPE has generally declined, although hospitals’ demand for the supplies remains strong due to the delta variant, as demonstrated by a lingering 1,300% increase in N95 respirator use among providers compared to pre-pandemic rates.

“In addition, [our] data show that for some PPE categories, such as eye protection, surgical gowns and face masks, pricing is very near pre-pandemic levels, while demand remains strong,” Premier wrote.

The group based its analysis on data collected from roughly 30% of U.S. hospitals through its PINC AI data set and platform. It included the pricing and use of eye protection, surgical gowns, N95 respirators, face masks, exam gloves and swabs from Sept. 2019 through Sept. 2021.

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Rising supply expenses have made their mark on health systems’ bottom lines.

A recent analysis from Kaufman Hall and the American Hospital Association that warned of widespread negative operating margins for 2021 specifically pointed to a 17% per discharge increase in supply expenses such as PPE as a major pain point for hospitals. In its most recent earnings call, Providence highlighted a 16% increase in medical supply expenses as a factor in its $94 million net loss for the first half of 2021.

Although demand for PPE remains higher than pre-pandemic, members of the healthcare workforce are calling on hospitals to ramp up their purchasing and deployment of PPE.

A recent survey of 5,000 nurses conducted by National Nurses United suggests that the use of respirators and other PPE around positive or suspected COVID-19 patients has been middling in their organizations—potentially a violation of an emergency temporary standard issued over the summer by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.