Long-term care homes are being offered masks and gloves, but only if they can pay big

TORONTO — At long-term care homes across Canada, personal protective equipment (PPE) is in short supply.

In a video provided by one home in Western Canada, which asked to remain anonymous, the shelves are empty where the essential tools to protect nursing home staff and residents — gloves and masks — should be stored.

Yet, long-term care homes in need have been getting emails offering those very supplies. The catch? Often, they are being offered at a major markup.

Emails that were provided to CTV News show suppliers offering high-grade masks that were once a buck a piece are now available for almost $8 each — a 700-per-cent increase.

Surgical masks that cost 12 cents each in December are now nearly $6 a piece. That’s almost a 5,000-per-cent jump.

The situation has some afraid that they will not be able to afford the protection they desperately need.

Jodi Hall, the chair of the Canadian Association for Long Term Care said she feels that it “really puts our residents’ lives at risk if we can’t access and provide the equipment that’s needed for us.” Upping the prices, she said, is “not acceptable.”

But the story is more complex than it first appears, according to a Canadian company that serves as the middleman to offer critically needed N95 masks to long-term care facilities and hospitals.

Alpine Rescue and Medical Supply officials say they have access to a shipment coming early this week of surgical and N95 masks. The company sent emails to hospitals and long-term care groups with the urgently needed N95 masks listed at $17.52 a piece, plus shipping and handling. That’s over 900 per cent above the normal selling price of about $1.70.

Company officials say the high price isn’t set by them, but by their international supplier. They say they are only adding a 5 per cent markup from that price to cover their costs.

Their owner, Jeff Burko, told CTV News over the phone that they are selling this personal protective equipment “as a community service.

“Every single person that we’ve offered this to, or have contacted us, have been made aware that this is on a cost-recovery basis and we acknowledge the fact that the cost is exorbitant,” Burko said.

“However, we don’t have any control over that whatsoever.”

Burko said in a follow up email to CTV News that his company’s supplier is in the U.S., and that they have told him that high prices are due to “grossly inflated manufacturing costs” and “air transport fees,” adding that the company might be selling these products at a loss if the shipment is subject to higher tariffs than they’ve planned for.

So just where are these masks and gloves coming from?

Some suppliers say they are being shipped from “Asia.” Others are more direct. An email from another possible supplier named “Simon” writes: “these are masks manufactured in China by reputable manufacturers with FDA certification.” But it’s not clear if these claims are true or not.

Still, the higher prices leave those caring for vulnerable seniors in a desperate position.

“We absolutely have very little choice to purchase the equipment that we need at whatever price point,” Hall said. “And it does feel like these companies are profiting at our expense and at our residents’ expense.”

Meanwhile, Ottawa is awaiting their own shipment of PPE Monday.

Although the government has not disclosed specifics on potential markups from suppliers, Federal Minister of Health Patty Hadju has indicated that they are prepared for that possibility.

“This is the wild west of procurement,” said Hadju. “And what we’re trying to do as a country is obviously keep an eye on the cost, but also knowing that we are going to have to pay inflated prices in a market where there is a high demand for these products.”

The Canadian Association for Long Term Care say they wrote a letter to federal officials weeks ago — warning of all this — but that they never heard back.

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