States, hospitals scramble for medical supplies ahead of expected COVID-19 surge

Published: Mar. 23, 2020 at 6:57 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Hospital leaders across the nation say they expect to see a rise in coronavirus patients. Many are now scrambling to find the medical supplies they need to treat those patients and others.

The Mid-South’s four primary healthcare systems: Baptist, Methodist, Regional One and Saint Francis, released a joint letter, saying that they are all working together and preparing for what has become the highest national priority.

“Meeting this moment requires the close partnership of national, state and local entities to ensure we have the resources needed to meet the expected increase of cases in our hospitals. Meeting this moment requires each hospital to take strong action to prepare.”

Many states had expected the federal government to take the lead role in securing medical supplies, like masks, gowns and gloves.

But Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson says that’s not what happened.

“The federal government is asking the states to manage the supply chain and to take the lead in the procurement of personal protective equipment,” said Hutchinson.

Hutchinson says the federal government bought up most of the domestic supplies on the market.

“The federal government bought up most of the domestic supply, put it in their national strategic storehouse, in which the states can request allocation of personal protective equipment (PPE),” said Hutchinson.

He says the federal government has only provided 25% of what Arkansas needs from the national stockpile.

“Then after we exhaust that supply, we are on our own,” said Hutchinson.

He says Arkansas has $30 million to spend on supplies but must deal with a shortage. It also has to compete against other states, countries and the federal government.

“The supply is just not sufficient domestically and we are looking internationally,” said Hutchinson. “We are looking at manufacturing our own, to the extent that we have the capacity.”

Mississippi’s State Health Officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, described his state’s supply stockpile as “a paltry amount” compared to what’s needed.

In Tennessee, Governor Bill Lee says the state is “working aggressively” to get medical supplies.

Last week, the governor authorized the state to buy 570 new ventilators.

“We’re still continuing to pursue ventilators even though it’s doubling our current capacity because we want to get ready in case there’s a surge,” Lee said.

In a joint letter, Mid-South hospitals say they’re doing their part, including by conserving critically needed supplies like masks and gloves.

The healthcare systems said that an extraordinary national public-private effort has mobilized to provide hospitals with added resources like personal protective equipment, testing kits, ventilators and other critical supplies.

“Hospitals are on the front lines. The greater Memphis area is fortunate to have a robust and high-quality healthcare infrastructure. Baptist, Methodist, Regional One and Saint Francis are exceptionally capable institutions and our mission remains the same as always: to protect and enhance the well-being of this community we all love. We will meet this moment.”

Keith Norman, with Baptist, says suppliers play a crucial role and they all need to act responsibly.

“People have raised the price to supplies and this is not the time for that type of gouging to take place as our entire nation is facing this epidemic,” said Norman.

Each state is working with FEMA to free up more supplies.

Governor Hutchinson says he appreciates those who have donated supplies like medical masks, but he says the state is going to need to buy in bulk quantities in the millions to face this crisis.

“While we are working very hard every day on this procurement, I want everybody to understand the challenge that we face,” Hutchinson said. ”We are competing with New York. We are competing with California. We are competing with all of the 50 states. We are competing with England. We are competing with Germany and with every country because it is a global pandemic.”

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