Protective equipment costs up 200% in a year, which impacts Butler County governments

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

During the coronavirus pandemic, people have been trying to do extraordinary things to help others in need on the frontlines battling the virus. And that includes a group of more than 40 workers in Pennsylvania who spent 28 days straight working and sleeping at a factory producing PPE for health care workers.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Personal protective equipment prices continue to skyrocket more than a year after the coronavirus pandemic jolted demand and expenses for Butler County governments.

West Chester Twp. Administrator Larry Burks said the price of protective gloves used by emergency responders has increased 200% over the past year, and another 25% jump is anticipated.

“Hopefully the supply will eventually overtake the demand,” Burks said. “But right now everyone wants masks, gloves, gauze all of that good stuff.”

When the coronavirus pandemic was in its infancy a year ago, West Chester ordered 1,500 face masks and 50 thermometers for $17,500 through the Greater Cincinnati Chinese Chamber of Commerce from Shanghai.

“You couldn’t find them, you can’t buy them, they’re just not available,” Burks said last March. “We thought the price was fair considering the market at the time.”

The township has spent $67,963 on PPE items since. Recent costs could be included in a $91,012 purchase order recently opened to cover PPE and other consumables for the coming year.

A vendor provided the township a fact sheet that shows the global demand for single-use gloves in 2020 was 585 billion, but only 370 billion could be supplied if manufacturers were working at 100% capacity. It noted there are limited glove makers, and some raised their prices 50% or more from 2019.

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The vendor, Ansell, cited a number of factors impacting costs including: few manufacturers producing gloves, strict regulation for start-up companies, increased labor costs and incentives due to a workforce shortage, frequent sanitization of factories and additional PPE for workers.

The jurisdictions throughout the county have been doing cooperative buying to try and keep prices down. Masks, gloves, gowns and disinfecting wipes are all forms of PPE eligible for reimbursement through the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress a year ago. Butler County jurisdictions received $26.8 million.

The city of Hamilton, the largest jurisdiction other than the county itself, has spent about $287,000 on PPE throughout the pandemic. Fire Chief Mark Mercer told the Journal-News the city doubled its order of gloves by mistake in the beginning of 2020 so “by happy accident we had overstocked on the front end and we never had to order gloves at that time.”

He said the Butler County Emergency Management Agency has “crushed it” on helping jurisdictions stay stocked. EMA Director Matt Haverkos said the agency has supplied nearly three million PPE items to law enforcement, fire and EMS, government agencies, hospitals and other entities.

“We’re not buying it, we’re just finding it for people to buy,” Haverkos said. “We’re not supplying every glove that they use, we’re that emergency stopgap for when they order, maybe they may say I want a case and they say we’re only going to give you a box because there’s not enough supply.”

Oxford Fire Chief John Detherage said his department stocked up at the beginning of the pandemic and the Miami University population in town shrunk during the pandemic.

“We have also experienced an increase in PPE cost, along with rationing from our vendors,” Detherage said. “Luckily our calls have been down due to COVID restrictions and the reduced number of MU students in town this year.”

Chris Hacker, the county’s new director of assets, procurement and projects, said since purchasing has been decentralized, it is difficult to determine how much has been spent on PPE but “from an inventory perspective we are in good shape and smart about not allowing ourselves to run out.”

The county spent about $90,000 at the outset of the crisis beefing up cleaning and sanitizing of county buildings, extra IT expenses to allow people to work remotely, installing Plexiglas in certain areas of county-owned buildings and purchasing personnel protective equipment.

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