CHICAGO (CBS) — Remember when toilet paper and cleaning wipes were hard to find?

That struggle feels like ages ago, but grappling with supply shortages is still a reality for several small businesses. CBS 2’s Lauren Victory took us inside a Chicago dentist’s office where personal protective equipment is taking a huge bite out of the budget.

The complex setup University Associates in Dentistry in the Loop looks like it’s for emergency surgery. But it’s actually for simple dental appointments.

Dr. Lauren Zalay and her staff are wearing more PPE than ever before, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines.

“We used to just wear a surgical mask,” Zalay said. “So now we’re wearing a gown, N95 mask, a surgical mask, and a face shield.”

The items are changed for every patient. Most supplies are tossed for safety.

“For gowns, I would say we used to go through about 30 a month, and we’re going through about 15, 20 a day,” Zalay said.

Of course, more PPE use means more expenses. But Dr. Zalay could not brush off some costs.

“We’re up about 600 percent,” she said. “It’s crazy.”

She paid $18.89 for 10 gowns before the pandemic, or $1.89 apiece.

“Those same gowns are now about $6,” Zalay said. “Major distributors are price gouging us. They know we need it and they know they have it.”

Gloves are now more than double the price for half the amount of product. At least Zalay’s office has them. Plastic surgeon Dr. Jacob Bloom does not.

“It’s a little scary,” Bloom said.

Bloom shared a video of what he sees scrolling through his supplier’s website. Everything is unavailable.

The scramble creates a market for counterfeits. In fact, the feds busted $3 million worth of fake masks at O’Hare International Airport last month.

“When your medical distributors don’t have it, turning to the internet like everyone else in the rest of the country is a little scary because there are lot of products that are just not up to snuff,” Bloom said.

Dr. Zalay might have found a solution. She recently teamed up with the philanthropist behind MRI-care.com.

The company sells directly to consumers, slashing prices by cutting out the distributors – giving essential workers a reason to smile.

MRI-Care’s costs are still higher than before COVID-19 hit. Zalay said pricing remains elevated because of supply and demand, but it is still better than the distributor’s.

The philanthropist behind MRI wants to remain anonymous. The company website lists an address in Elk Grove Village.

 

Lauren Victory