While Donald Trump claims to be directing states and hospitals to secure the supplies they can, the federal government has been quietly seizing orders without explanations on where the supplies are going.
Over the past week, hospital and clinic officials in seven states described the seizures in interviews. Officials who’ve had materials seized described the lack of guidance from the government about how or if they will get access to the supplies they ordered. That has spiked concerns about how public funds are being spent in regards to medical supplies and whether or not the Trump administration is fairly distributing the supplies, which are desperately sought out during these times.
A California hospital official, whose identity remains confidential due to retaliation fears, expressed their concern, stating, “We can’t get any answers.” Elsewhere in Florida, a large medical system saw an order for thermometers abruptly taken away. A system in Massachusetts has been unsuccessful in determining where its order of masks went.
Jose Camacho, head of the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, said his group was attempting to obtain a small order of just 20,000 masks when his supplier reported that the order had been taken.
“Everyone says you are supposed to be on your own,” Camacho said, noting Trump’s repeated notion that states and local health systems cannot rely on Washington for supplies. “Then to have this happen, you just sit there wondering what else you can do. You can’t fight the federal government.”
According to the LA Times, PeaceHealth, a 10-hospital system in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska, had a shipment of testing supplies seized recently. While PeaceHealth doesn’t have hospitals in the Seattle area, where the first domestic coronavirus outbreak occurred, the system has had a consistent stream of potentially infected patients who require testing and care by doctors and nurses in full protective equipment that they have been unable to get.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” Richard DeCarlo, the system’s chief operating officer, expressed. “We had put wheels in motion with testing and protective equipment to allow us to secure and protect our staff and our patients. When testing went off the table, we had to come up with a whole new plan.”
“Are they stockpiling this stuff? Are they distributing it? We don’t know. And are we going to ever get any of it back if we need supplies? It would be nice to know these things,” one official said.
Trump and other White House officials insist that the government is using a data-driven approach to obtain supplies and route them to the areas where they are most needed.
A FEMA representative responded to the LA Times request for comment, claiming that the agency, in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense, has developed a system for identifying needed supplies from vendors and distributing them equitably. The representative also said that the agency factors in the populations of states and major metropolitan areas and the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in various locales. “High-transmission areas were prioritized, and allocations were based on population, not on quantities requested,” the representative explained.
However, the agency refused to provide additional details as to how these determinations are made or why it is choosing to seize some supply orders and not others. Administration officials also will not say what supplies are going to what states, according to the LA Times.
“In order to have confidence in the distribution system, to know that it is being done in an equitable manner, you have to have transparency,” said Dr. John Hick, an emergency physician at Hennepin Healthcare in Minnesota who has helped develop national emergency preparedness standards through the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.