COVID-19 surge leaves hospitals facing major supply shortages, from trash cans to vital medical equipment

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Hospitals nationwide – currently grappling with a surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations brought on by the delta variant of the virus – are facing another shortage of supplies. 

This time it's anything from trash cans to machines that monitor a patient's vital signs and even the poles that hold IV lines, according to Cindy Juhas, chief strategy officer of CME Corp.  

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CME is one of America's largest equipment-focused national medical distributors in the U.S., offering more than 2 million products from more than 2,000 manufacturers.

Over the past year, some hospitals were able to re-stock on personal protective equipment and other critical supplies to fight the pandemic, according to Juhas.

"Now, what we are seeing are more and more hospitals and medical centers putting up new, temporary facilities due to the delta surge," she said. "The need for medical equipment to operate the facilities is fueling delays and shortages in the supply chain." 

Health care worker Demetra Ransom comforts a patient at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, on Dec. 4, 2020.  (Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP /AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Juhas said the company is getting most of its orders from "places that are being hit the hardest by the delta variant," such as Florida, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama.  

Juhas says it has been an ongoing struggle to fill the orders. The medical supply chain transportation issues, lack of raw materials and labor shortages are "creating the perfect storm" as the variant threatens the nation's recovery, she said. 

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Even "mundane" products from trash cans, tables placed next to beds and commode chairs, which are portable chairs with a built-in toilet chamber, are hard to come by.  

Juhas said CME has 10 sources for commode chairs but "nobody has them in stock." 

The largest manufacturer CME works with is taking an average of 15 weeks to fill orders, according to Juhas. 

However, some of its manufacturers aren't even picking up their calls, Juhas added, saying it's been "disheartening." 

"Customers need them today, not 10 to 20 weeks from now," Juhas said. 

And the demand for these products is driving up the cost. 

About 74 of CME's top manufacturers have instituted moderate to severe price increases, ranging from 3% to 20%, for their products.

And that doesn't even include freight costs, which has "close to doubled in the past six months" she said.

According to Juhas, most manufacturers project that the problems will continue "through the end of this year and well into 2022."

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