During the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals and first responders have struggled with a lack of PPE, ventilators, and other essential medical supplies. The Federal Government has urged individual states to secure these supplies on their own, yet over the past month there have been numerous reports, from both Democratic and Republican governors, that the Federal government has been actively disrupting these efforts by outbidding them for, and sometimes even outright seizing, medical supplies when they try to acquire them.
NPR provides a good overview:
As the number of coronavirus cases surged in Massachusetts, nurses at a hospital in Milford were desperate. They held up cardboard signs outside the hospital asking for donations of protective gear to wear while treating infected patients.
William Touhey Jr. thought he could help. Touhey is the fire chief and emergency management director in this small town outside of Boston. He did some legwork, and placed an order for 30,000 protective gowns from overseas.
"We were hearing good things that it was coming," Touhey said.
Then he got a phone call from the distributor last week.
"The order had been redirected, as they put it, from us to FEMA," Touhey said. "It's just the way times are right now, where everybody's fighting for a very limited supply of material.” ...
At the same time, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is keeping a tight grip on critical medical supplies leaving the country – and coming in from overseas. This new system is disrupting an emergency supply chain that's been in place for decades.
And now governors, hospitals and local officials say the federal government is big-footing them by poaching the supplies they ordered.
"We had a good lead with a manufacturer on vents, and they got swept up by FEMA, so we're not getting them," Colorado Governor Jared Polis, a Democrat, in an interview with CNN this month.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, says his state placed an order for millions of N-95 respirator masks — but never got them. "We had our 3 million masks that we had ordered ... confiscated in the port in New York," Baker said at a press conference this month.
After federal officials took those masks, Baker says Massachusetts scrambled to arrange a new shipment from China. But this time, state officials used a private plane that belongs to the New England Patriots. ...
But state and local officials say they're baffled. They don't understand how distribution decisions are made. And they don't understand why FEMA is taking some of the supplies they'd already ordered.
Business Insider cites a number of other reports:
FEMA "swept up" an order for 500 ventilators made by the state of Colorado last week, Gov. Jared Polis told CNN on April 4.
Similar accusations have come from officials on the local and state levels in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Kentucky, Texas, and Florida, according to reports in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and an editorial in Talking Points Memo.
Shanel Robinson, freeholder director of the community of Somerset County, New Jersey, told local news outlet the Franklin Reporter and Advocate she had been informed that her order of 35,000 N95 and surgical masks had been diverted by federal government. She said she doesn't know where the masks went.
Similar reports from Illinois:
Gov. J.B. Pritzker is planning to obtain millions of masks and gloves from China and bring those supplies back to Illinois on charter jets — but he’s keeping the details secret out of fear the Trump administration might seize the cargo for the federal stockpile, sources said Tuesday.
And a Correspondence published in the New England Journal of Medicine provides a first-hand view of the difficulties hospitals face getting protective equipment, and the role of the federal government in exacerbating these difficulties
As a chief physician executive, I rarely get involved in my health system’s supply-chain activities. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed that. Protecting our caregivers is essential so that these talented professionals can safely provide compassionate care to our patients. Yet we continue to be stymied by a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), and the cavalry does not appear to be coming.
Our supply-chain group has worked around the clock to secure gowns, gloves, face masks, goggles, face shields, and N95 respirators. These employees have adapted to a new normal, exploring every lead, no matter how unusual. Deals, some bizarre and convoluted, and many involving large sums of money, have dissolved at the last minute when we were outbid or outmuscled, sometimes by the federal government.
What is the explanation for this? If the Federal Government is counting on States to provide for their own medical supplies, as the President has often argued, why are they competing with them and driving up prices with bidding wars? Is this kind of thing normal and/or are the governors incorrect about what's happening? Or is there some justification for why FEMA and the Federal government are taking these kind of actions?