Nacogdoches Memorial Hospital’s chief financial officer Rhonda McCabe stood before the hospital board last week and held aloft a run-of-the-mill staple for hospital operations, a plastic container of Sani-Cloth disinfecting wipes.

The cost of the wipes has increased nearly 1500% since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our cost of supplies is really, really tough,” McCabe said.

What nurses typically call “purple wipes” because the distinctive grape colored packaging, cost $4 per container before the coronavirus hit, increasing demand and choking supply lines. Today, 160 wipes is $61 — a 1425% inflation.

The wipes are the most dramatic example, but a box of gloves increased to $35 from $9. Boxes of syringes that also once cost $9 are now $55. Expenses for October were up $300,000 over the previous year, largely due to the escalating cost of supplies. Still year to date, Memorial has a net margin of $1 million.

Some hospital board members raised concerns of price gouging by supply companies.

“It’s not gouging if you can justify that it cost that much to make,” board member James Stockman said. “Look on the box where most of that stuff is made, and you’ll have your answer as to why it costs so much.”

The geographical answer here, as with many of the elements of the coronavirus pandemic, is China. Memorial Hospital isn’t alone in the struggle. Delays in Chinese manufacturing and shipping because of the virus has cut the supply of everything from diet sodas to steel.

“All the raw material, they are telling us now, comes from China whether it’s produced over there now or not,” McCabe said, particularly of hospital supplies.

Financial firm Moody’s warned last month of continued disruptions, especially for “essential medical supplies and building materials.” That could be exacerbated as the virus begins to flare up again in China and authorities there begin testing millions of people, imposing lockdowns and closings schools.

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