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Senators call on feds to explain medical supplies seizures

By Kate Masters

VM – Virginia’s senators are asking Vice President Mike Pence to explain
why the federal government is seizing orders of medical equipment amid the
COVID-19 pandemic.

Sens. Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) sent a letter April 10 to Pence
and Peter Gaynor, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management
Agency, asking them to “explicitly and transparently lay out and
publicly report on the federal government’s activities and plans.”

“We have heard disturbing accounts from states, health systems and
hospitals and have seen press reporting indicating that FEMA has stepped
in after orders have been placed to redirect significant shares of
supplies meant for our constituents and Americans in need to the federal
government,” the letter reads.

Multiple hospitals across the country have reported individual orders
being seized by FEMA in the last few weeks, from thermometers ordered by a
hospital in Florida to testing supplies taken from a health system in
Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.

State leaders have also expressed frustration with the supply chain for
medical gear and what’s often described as a lack of federal leadership
in sourcing and distributing supplies. The Strategic National Stockpile, a
repository of medical equipment intended for states and localities during
public health emergencies, is reportedly depleted — a week after White
House adviser and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said the stockpile
belonged to the federal government, not the states.

In his latest letter to clinicians, Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norm
Oliver wrote that “additional shipments from the Strategic National
Stockpile are not expected in the near future.”

Virginia is still experiencing “ a critical shortage of PPE,” Oliver
continued. Recently released FEMA documents show that the state received a
fraction of the equipment it ordered from the federal government.

The absence of federal leadership has left individual states to compete
with each other, hospitals, and the Trump Administration to buy medical
equipment in an environment of scarcity, Gov. Ralph Northam has said
repeatedly at press briefings.

“There’s no such thing as too much right now,” he said last week.
“And what has prompted that — and I speak on behalf of all governors
— is we’re competing. We’re competing with each other, we’re
competing with other countries, we’re competing with other states.”

Kaine and Warner have heard reports of this problem in Virginia, though
the letter does not mention specific hospitals and health systems. In a
press briefing on Friday, though, Northam said he had not heard of any
orders taken from Virginia health facilities.

“We have checked with our CEOs, and to date, we haven’t had that
issue,” he said.

Earlier this week, Northam announced that the state had reached a $27
million contract with a Virginia-based logistics company to secure more
protective equipment.

As of Thursday, eight hospitals in Virginia reported that their supply of
personal protective equipment would be exhausted in the next three days
without assistance, according to data from the Virginia Hospital and
Healthcare Association. Three reported difficulty obtaining or
replenishing other medical supplies. That’s led some health systems to
get innovative. VCU has developed a system for decontaminating masks,
allowing them to be safely reused, that it says it will share with other
hospitals, according to published reports.

The expense of securing extra equipment, combined with federal actions to
seize orders of medical supplies, was putting a financial strain on
hospitals, Kaine and Warner wrote.

“Hospitals and health systems are paying many times what they paid only
a few months ago for vital supplies and are devoting significant human
capital to the effort to ensure adequate supplies,” the letter reads.
“And in some cases as we have learned, hospitals are not receiving
complete orders of supplies due to unannounced intervention by the federal
government.”

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