At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, hospitals across the U.S. and in Arizona reported a shortage of protective equipment, such as masks, gloves and basic necessities such as bleach and sanitizer that hospitals need even when they aren’t embroiled in a global health crisis.
Now, in 2021, various industries are seeing product shortages from housing developers and those in the construction reporting shortages in much-needed materials like lumber and steel to car dealers getting products on their lots.
The health care industry isn’t immune to supply chain issues either, though local officials say its better than it was during previous coronavirus surges.
Multiple Phoenix-based hospitals reported seeing shortages at this stage in the game, just as a third wave of the coronavirus, field by the more transmissible delta variant, is on the rise.
The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 3,247 additional cases on Monday, and the state’s seven- day rolling average of new cases was 3,198 as of Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Approximately 29% of all ICU beds across the state are currently occupied by COVID patients; health experts have said the vast majority of severe cases and hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated. Just 55.9% of Arizona’s population has received the COVID-19 vaccine.
That surge of patients has hospitals using more supplies and scouring for ways to get ahead of the supply chain.
“Banner Health, like all other health systems, is experiencing continuing global supply chain disruptions,” said David Lozano, spokesman for the state’s largest health care system. “Banner Health currently has adequate supplies for what’s needed during this most recent surge. While we can’t speak on behalf of other health care organizations and any hurdles they may be facing, Banner Health continues to leverage its highly effective supply chain to find solutions to care for our patients.”
Lozano declined to comment on which materials or supplies were short.
James McVeigh, a spokesman for the Mayo Clinic organization, which has two Valley facilities, confirmed some shortages, but said Mayo was ready for the surge and had managed its supply well in advance of this new wave of patients.
“We are well prepared for the current surge at Mayo Clinic Arizona and across the enterprise,” he said. “Along with our colleagues at other health care systems, we continue to experience some back orders and delays caused by manufacturing shortages and logistics delays from ongoing port congestion and lack of trucks and drivers to deliver products. To date, we have been able to mitigate all supply risks.”
These health care supply chain shortages are reminiscent of those early pandemic days, including the inflation of prices that followed.
By April, prices for isolation gowns had spiked by 2,000%, and 3M N95masks were up 6,136%, according to an April 2020 study from the Society for Healthcare Organization Procurement Professionals.
The largest reported price increases were for isolation gowns (2,000%), N95 masks (1,513%), three-ply masks (1,500%) and reusable face shields (900%).
Regardless, most Valley hospitals say they’re doing just fine for now but keeping a close eye on the future to avoid setbacks.
“At this time, Dignity Health hospitals in Arizona have sufficient PPE and other medical supplies to effectively manage through this current COVID-19 surge,” said Carmelle Malkovich, a spokeswoman for Dignity Health. “We continue to very closely monitor our inventory to ensure the continued safety of our patients and staff.”
It also includes Abrazo Health, according to spokesman Keith Jones.
“Our top priority is making sure our patients, staff and community remain safe,” he said. “We can safely and appropriately care for our patients with the necessary supplies and equipment that we currently have. We continue to monitor supply levels and take proactive measures to keep our patients, staff and community safe.”
But Michael Murphy, a spokesman for Phoenix- based Valleywise Health, which boasts a hospital and community health clinics across the region, said while the shortages are there, the system knows by now how to head off the issue before it impacts patients.
“A number of our usual supplies have been at various stages of shortage throughout the pandemic,” he said. “Most of the time we have been able to identify alternatives to meet our demand. Earlier in the pandemic, this was more of an issue, but this has improved at this time.”
Murphy said the health care industry is seeing supply chain issues especially among equipment but Valleywise’s supply and logistics teams strategically plan in advance to better support hospital and clinics in the face of the pandemic. As a result, the system is not in need of any materials or supplies at the moment.
“Our supply team and logistics team has increased the number of items that we hold on hand in areas of greatest use such as masks and gloves,” he said. “This has helped us stay consistent during this wave of the pandemic.”