New FEMA Documents Show Critical Shortages of Medical Supplies
Washington, D.C. (Apr. 2, 2020)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, issued the following statement after the Committee released new documents obtained from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) showing that the agency has provided only a fraction of the personal protective equipment and critical medical supplies requested by five states and the District of Columbia:
“The new documents we are releasing today confirm the urgent warnings we have been hearing from our nation’s governors and health care professionals for weeks—they do not have enough personal protective equipment and medical supplies, and the Administration has provided only a tiny fraction of what they desperately need.
“Unfortunately, President Trump spent months downplaying the coronavirus crisis and wasting precious time as thousands of Americans tested positive, got sick, and died. Rather than casting doubt on the gravity of this pandemic, the Administration should have been working around the clock to prepare and execute plans to obtain desperately needed personal protective equipment and medical supplies.
“The President must act immediately to take all steps within his authority to get personal protective equipment and medical supplies to our nation’s frontline responders who are risking everything to save their fellow Americans. The Administration should utilize the Defense Production Act and other legal authorities to maximize domestic production, ensure suppliers are prioritizing U.S. needs before exporting critical supplies, and ensure that cities, states, and the federal government are working together, rather than competing to procure scarce supplies.”
The documents released today are from FEMA Region III, which includes Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. The documents reveal that as of March 30, 2020, FEMA had provided only a fraction of each jurisdiction’s request for personal protective equipment and medical supplies, leaving massive shortfalls. For example, the jurisdictions in Region III requested:
- 5.2 million N95 respirator masks, but only received 445,000 (< 10%);
- 194 million pairs of gloves, but only received 991,000 (< 1%);
- 15,000 body bags, but received none (0%).
On March 20, 2020, FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor briefed Oversight Committee Members and cautioned that FEMA had only been “at this for 48 hours.” During that briefing, another FEMA official stated that Administrator Gaynor had not been invited to the join the White House coronavirus task force until earlier that week and that Administrator Gaynor stated that FEMA did not host its first “interagency synchronization call” until earlier that day.
On March 30, 2020, the Committee held a Member briefing with officials from FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In addition, on April 1, 2020, FEMA and HHS officials briefed the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Oversight Committee and other authorizing and appropriating committees. These officials provided the following information:
- Critical Shortage of Ventilators Expected to Worsen.
Although President Trump asserted this week that coronavirus cases may peak “around Easter,” FEMA officials informed the Committee on March 30 that there are only about 9,500 ventilators remaining in the Strategic National Stockpile and that by the week of April 13, the Supply Chain Task Force will have acquired only about 3,200 more. FEMA reported that most of the 100,000 ventilators promised by President Trump will not be available until late June at the earliest.
- Demand for Ventilators Outstrips Capacity.
On April 1, FEMA conceded that, based on current projections, the demand for ventilators “outstrips the capacity” of the Strategic National Stockpile and those provided by the Department of Defense. FEMA’s Administrator has directed that ventilators be treated as a “strategic national asset” and released to states only after they answer a “tough series of questions” designed to identify an “exigent need” to sustain life “within 72 hours.”
- Trump Administration Asks Doctors and Nurses to Re-Use Personal Protective Equipment, Despite Risks.
On April 1, when asked about urgent shortages in personal protective equipment, FEMA recommended that medical professionals preserve, optimize, and re-use personal protective equipment. The briefer acknowledged that reusing this equipment increases the risk that health care providers will be infected with coronavirus, but asserted that this step is “critical” given current shortages.
- Likely Shortages Were Known Months Ago, But Procurement Efforts Still Delayed.
On March 30, HHS admitted that the Department knew as early as mid-January based on 2015 models that the United States would not have enough N95 respirator masks to respond to an infectious disease outbreak. HHS and FEMA officials were not able to provide specific timelines about when additional equipment and supplies would be procured by the federal government and made available to states.
- FEMA Refuses to Take More Active Role in Supplying Critical Supplies.
On April 1, FEMA officials conceded that although domestic manufacturers are ramping up production of personal protective equipment, “those pieces are not moving fast enough for any of us.” FEMA said its efforts to procure masks on the open market were akin to “chasing rabbits in an open field,” because many domestic suppliers are not able to locate available supplies. Yet FEMA pushed back on suggestions that the Administration should take a more active role in procurement, saying that FEMA “attempting to replace private sector supply chains does not work” and that the agency is instead helping the private sector supply chain “adapt.”