Hospitals seize supplies of coronavirus, hospitals say


Although President Trump has ordered states and hospitals to secure supplies as they can, the federal government quietly seizes orders, leaving healthcare providers across the country in the dark as to where the equipment goes and of how to get what they need to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic.

Hospital and clinic officials from seven states described the seizures in interviews last week. The Federal Emergency Management Agency does not make the acquisitions public, despite millions of dollars of taxpayer spending, and the administration has also failed to specify how it decides which supplies to seize and where to redirect them.

Officials who seized documents also said that they had received no indication from the government how they would have access to the supplies they ordered or how to obtain them. This has raised concerns about how public funds are spent and whether the Trump administration distributes scarce medical supplies fairly.

“To have confidence in the distribution system, to know it’s done fairly, you have to be transparent,” said Dr. John Hick, an emergency room physician at Hennepin Healthcare in Minnesota who helped develop an emergency national. standards of preparation through the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

Medical leaders at the forefront of the fight to control the coronavirus and keep patients alive say they are looking for an explanation. “We can’t get any response,” said a California hospital official who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals from the White House.

In Florida, a large medical system saw an order for thermometers carried away. And the people in charge of a Massachusetts system couldn’t figure out where his mask order was going.

“Do they store these things?” Are they distributing it? We don’t know, ”said an official. “And will we ever get it back if we need supplies?” It would be nice to know these things. “

PeaceHealth, a system of 10 hospitals in Washington, Oregon and Alaska, recently seized a shipment of test supplies. “It’s extremely frustrating,” said Richard DeCarlo, director of system operations.

“We put wheels in motion with test and protection equipment to allow us to secure and protect our staff and our patients,” he said. “When the tests were gone, we had to come up with a whole new plan.”

Although PeaceHealth does not have hospitals in the Seattle area, where the first outbreak of domestic coronavirus occurred, the system has a steady stream of potentially infected patients who require testing and care by doctors and nurses. in complete protective equipment.

Trump and other White House officials, including his closest adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, have insisted that the federal government use a data-driven approach to get supplies and get them where they are needed most .

In response to questions from the Times, a FEMA representative said that the agency, in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense, had developed a system to identify supplies needed from suppliers and distribute them fairly.

The official said the agency takes into account the population of states and major metropolitan areas and the severity of the coronavirus epidemic in various locations. “The high-transmission areas were prioritized and the allocations were based on the population and not on the quantities requested,” said the representative.

But the agency declined to provide details on how these determinations are made or why it chooses to enter certain supplies orders and not others. Administration officials will not say which supplies go to which states.

Using the Defense Production Act, a Korean War era law that allows the President to compel the production of vital equipment in the event of a national emergency, Trump last month ordered General Motors to produce ventilators to fill gaps in hospitals.

The law also empowers federal agencies to place orders for critical materials and to ensure that they have priority over orders from private companies or state and local governments.

Experts believe judicious use of this authority could help bring order to the medical supply market by getting critical materials – ventilators, masks and other protective equipment – from suppliers to the federal government and then to areas the most needy, like New York.

Yet there is no evidence that federal officials are controlling the market, as hospitals, doctors and others say they are paying exorbitant prices or resorting to unorthodox maneuvers to get what they need.

Hospital and health officials describe an opaque process in which federal officials enter without warning to expropriate the supplies.

Jose Camacho, who heads Texas Assn. from community health centers, said his group was trying to buy a small order for only 20,000 masks when its supplier reported that the order had been taken.

Camacho was flabbergasted. Several of its member clinics – which, as primary care centers, are said to ease the pressure on overcrowded hospitals – are struggling to stay open despite the dire shortages of protective equipment.

“Everyone says you’re supposed to be alone,” said Camacho, noting Trump’s repeated warnings that states and local health systems can’t count on Washington for supplies. “Then, for that to happen, you just sit there wondering what else you can do. You cannot fight the federal government. ”


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