Premier and Honeywell will team up to increase the supply of exam gloves made in the U.S., the organizations announced Tuesday.
The group purchasing and consulting organization and the manufacturing conglomerate initially will produce 750 million nitrile gloves over a year. While the supply of most personal protective equipment has replenished since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical-grade exam gloves are still running short amidst global raw material scarcity, port closures and delays, and higher-than-average demand.
More than 80 health systems that work with Premier committed to purchase a fixed amount of Honeywell gloves for five years. Honeywell will provide additional gloves to S2S Global, Premier’s direct sourcing subsidiary, which can sell gloves to other health systems and hospitals across the country.
“Guided by data to prioritize greatest-need products at scale, our collaboration with Honeywell is another step forward in Premier’s steadfast commitment to protect healthcare providers from shortages, drive supply chain innovation and increase domestic manufacturing of critical products,” Premier CEO Michael Alkire said in prepared remarks.
While prices for N95 respirators, surgical masks and isolation gowns dropped between March 2020 to March 2021, exam glove prices were up 225% year-over-year as of this March, according to Premier data.
The demand for nitrile exam gloves currently exceeds capacity by 40% and supply will be constrained into 2023, Premier said. Vizient, another group purchasing organization, projects a demand-supply mismatch of closer to 50%.
About 90% of the raw materials used to make exam gloves as well as the finished products are sourced from Malaysia, which has been hamstrung by labor issues, the pandemic and the limited supply of butadiene, which is’s used to make nitrile gloves. Onshoring will only partially fill the supply void, supply chain experts said.
Owens & Minor, one of the largest glove suppliers, is expanding its U.S.-based output in finished exam gloves and raw materials. American Health systems are stockpiling PPE and building their own domestic manufacturing facilities after they were burned by non-traditional suppliers and insufficient inventory in Strategic National Stockpile. Healthcare companies are also trying to wean off of gloves made from butadiene. Ochsner Health, for instance, is renovating a facility and building a new plant, which will primarily produce nitrile gloves.
Still, standing up domestic production lines will take years. While health systems aim to diversify their PPE suppliers outside of the traditional overseas suppliers, it’s unlikely that the majority of providers will pay a premium over the long term to source most of their equipment locally, supply chain experts said.