An internal government report gives added details on what we already knew: hospitals are struggling to get enough personal protective equipment, and the federal government is not helping the situation. The report from the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services is based on interviews with administrators at 324 hospitals or hospital networks, and the assistant inspector general described its findings as “unprecedented.”
Hospitals reported receiving unusable masks and other personal protective equipment from the federal government: one hospital getting many fewer masks than it had requested found that half of them were child-sized—not helpful for protecting doctors and nurses—and another got two shipments of equipment that had expired in 2010.
Hospitals cited the “severe shortage of test kits” that has left the United States behind the curve in understanding the virus’s spread—and they told the HHS IG that the shortage of tests contributes to the shortage of PPE: “Hospitals reported that when patient stays were extended while awaiting COVID-19 results, this depletes PPE capacity by the same number of days.”
Hospitals also complained about the lack of clear guidance from the government, from who should be tested to what measures should be taken to remove other patients from hospitals to “a greater sense of confusion, fear and distrust among staff that they can rely on hospital procedures to protect them.” Hospital administrators also expressed worry about what happens if and when they have to ration care—who makes those decisions, and how?
The IG’s report is also devastating about the lengths hospitals are now going to get the PPE they need, desperately seeking new sources for masks and other equipment in the face of price-gouging and with the risk of getting faulty goods. An executive at a group purchasing organization for hospitals told NBC News that the government has responsibilities there, too, saying, “Someone needs to say these have been tested and validated. They [sellers] request a material deposit on purchases frequently exceeding millions of dollars, and there is no current process for buyers to even know if the product that they are receiving is valid, fraudulent or faulty.”
The Washington Post reports on what the frantic search for masks looks like, following Rep. Elissa Slotkin through a day in which she was constantly on the phone with the owner of a sex toy company who had a contact in China who was standing in line trying to get masks and with the CEO of a bicycle company who had some space on a plane leaving China; Slotkin was trying to get the masks to fill it with. Slotkin’s effort was ultimately unsuccessful, or at least severely delayed, and the HHS IG’s report shows just how common it is for hospitals to be scrambling in the same way, and too often with the same unsatisfying—possibly deadly—results.
As we know, Donald Trump doesn’t like it when government watchdogs do their jobs. So, is someone going to get fired for reporting this, too?