Houston officials face 1000% markup on healthcare supplies from private marketplace

HOUSTON – With a nationwide medical supply shortage, Houston officials are searching for items the city needs now.

But to get more supplies, Houston may have to pay a private company 1000% more than the original price of N95 masks, which are essential for protecting first responders from the coronavirus.

“I have to tell you, it’s become a bidding war,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Thursday.

Houston Health Department's Dr. David Persse said N95 masks usually cost 50 cents each. However, Turner said Wednesday he approved to pay a private company $4 per mask.

And, the city lost that bid.

“We were notified today that someone had bid more than that, and they were not going to follow-through and honor that agreement,” Turner said.

The city has placed a new bid with a different private company for $2 million with the cost per mask at $5.56.

When asked if this was considered price gouging, Turner said, "Well, let me get the masks first, and then I'll answer later."

Turner also announced the city is allocating $5 million from the Economic Stabilization Fund to pay for medical equipment and to secure a hotel deal to house first responders asked to quarantine.

Urgent need for supplies

Medical professionals and first responders are on the front lines fighting the spread of coronavirus in Houston.

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña said his department is taking a different approach.

"In order to limit the exposure to our firefighters, we're considering every person that we meet as possibly exposed," Peña said.

That means that the department is using more personal protective equipment.

Houston firefighters are using 1,000 or more masks, gowns, and gloves a day, which is expected to rise.

Houston received a shipment of medical supplies from FEMA Thursday. However, the delivery is not enough, according to George Buenik, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

"We expect that number to rise until it reaches its zenith point, which means that we're going to have to acquire the necessary supplies to protect all of the people," Turner said.

“They sent us more gloves. That was good. We appreciate that. But, there were other items, including masks and gowns and ice packs and coolers that we specifically needed,” Buenik said.