Hospitals say feds seizing masks and other coronavirus supplies

SUPPLIES: Test media and supplies at the UCLA Clinical Microbiology Laboratory in Los Angeles on March 28. Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — Although President Donald Trump has directed states and hospitals to secure what supplies they can, the federal government is quietly seizing orders, leaving medical providers across the country in the dark about where the material is going and how they can get what they need to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Hospital and clinic officials in seven states described the seizures in interviews over the past week. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is not publicly reporting the acquisitions, despite the outlay of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, nor has the administration detailed how it decides which supplies to seize and where to reroute them.

Officials who've had materials seized also say they've received no guidance from the government about how or if they will get access to the supplies they ordered. That has stoked concerns about how public funds are being spent and whether the Trump administration is fairly distributing scarce medical supplies.

"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.

The medical leaders on the front lines of the fight to control the coronavirus and keep patients alive say they are grasping for explanations. "We can't get any answers," said a California hospital official who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation from the White House.

'It's incredibly frustrating'

In Florida, a large medical system saw an order for thermometers taken away. And officials at a system in Massachusetts were unable to determine where its order of masks went.

"Are they stockpiling this stuff? Are they distributing it? We don't know," one official said. "And are we going to ever get any of it back if we need supplies? It would be nice to know these things."

PeaceHealth, a 10-hospital system in Washington, Oregon and Alaska, had a shipment of testing supplies seized recently.

"It's incredibly frustrating," said Richard DeCarlo, the system's chief operating officer.

"We had put wheels in motion with testing and protective equipment to allow us to secure and protect our staff and our patients," he said. "When testing went off the table, we had to come up with a whole new plan."

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

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

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