CORONAVIRUS

Hunt For Medical Supplies Creates Marketplace Of Desperation

Apr 5, 2020, 11:07 PM | Updated: 11:07 pm

ORANGE, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 03: Nurses and supporters protest the lack of personal protective gear a...

ORANGE, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 03: Nurses and supporters protest the lack of personal protective gear available at UCI Medical Center amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 3, 2020 in Orange, California. Hospitals nationwide are facing shortages of PPE due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Shady middlemen, phantom shipments, prices soaring by the hour, goods flown in on a private plane.

What sounds like an organized-crime thriller is now the new reality for governors desperately trying to find the medical equipment their states need in the throes of a pandemic. With the federal stockpile dwindling fast, and the Trump administration limiting access to what’s left, state leaders are going to extraordinary measures on their own to secure faces masks, ventilators, gloves and other equipment essential to fighting the outbreak.

They’ve ventured into a global market-place one governor described as the “wild, wild, West,” only to compete against each other and their own federal government. They’ve watched the price of ventilators double and masks go for 10 times their original price. They’ve turned to rich friends and businesses for help. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker enlisted NFL owner Robert Kraft to send the Patriots team plane to China to retrieve over a million masks.

In New York, an epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., Gov. Andrew Cuomo has looked closer to home to secure ventilators, issuing an order that forces even private hospitals to redistribute ventilators to the hospitals most in need.

“Let them sue me,” Cuomo said.

All this has led many governors to call on the federal government to centralize purchases. But President Donald Trump has not appeared inclined to intervene in the private market. And the White House made clear this week that Trump views the federal stockpile as a “backup” for the states.

“It is the greatest frustration,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who heads the National Governors Association. “We have states out competing on the open markets with totally uneven distribution of these things, and now the federal government competing with us — and other countries competing against us — and then a very limited supply of all of these things and no real coordination of where it’s going.”

Hogan said there has been progress from the Federal Emergency Management Agency distributing supplies from the nation’s dwindling stockpile, but he described it as a “tiny percentage” of what is needed.”

“We’ve been buying up everything that we can possibly get our hands on in the open market all over — not just domestically, but all over the world, from places like Korea and China and other places,” he said.

It’s not just governments competing with each other for the precious and ever-pricier supplies. States also sometimes compete with their own hospital systems, which are trying to get direct shipments so they can quickly resupply their medical workers.

Hospital employees like Dr. Daniel Durand, a physician and chief innovation officer for a hospital system in Maryland, now have a role they never imagined trying to find personal protection equipment in a market gone haywire.

As just one example, Durand said coveted N95 face masks that used to cost less than a dollar each can’t be found for less than $3.70. And that’s a bargain: Plenty of buyers are willing to pay much more — up to $10 apiece.

He said some middlemen threaten to take their products to another hospital when he starts asking basic questions.

“And then what I’m hearing is that people are paying millions for shipments and nothing’s showing up,” said Durand, who is the chairman of radiology for LifeBridge Health’s five hospitals. “So, there are just totally people scamming hospitals.”

Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne vets suppliers for that state’s medical gear and said they have to deal with people with questionable qualifications, and with little time to determine whether they are qualified or trustworthy.

“Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody in China,” he said.

Earlier this week, Trump acknowledged that the federal stockpile is nearly depleted, signaling that states will remain largely on their own just as the death toll begins to spike. Many governors have been complaining for weeks that they have not received the shipments they requested from the nation’s supply.

Middlemen and suppliers are taking advantage of the desperation: Smaller ventilators that had been selling for $11,000 to $14,000 are now going for $20,000 to $30,000, said Christian Mitchell, deputy governor in Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration. More deluxe models that had topped out at $45,000 now cost $20,000 more.

“Your choices are between, ‘Do I get enough of the stuff that I need to protect my front-line health care workers, do I get enough ventilators to make sure that more people get to stay alive. Or do people die?’” he said.

Big states like California have an advantage because their sheer size gives them massive purchasing power that others lack. California Gov. Gavin Newsom says he doesn’t want that leverage to hurt smaller states and has reached out to Washington, Illinois, New Jersey and others about creating a partnership to centralize their purchases.

“Much of what you’re hearing is true in terms of it being the wild wild West out there,” Newsom said.

Small states, like New Hampshire, are at a disadvantage.

“I’m sorry, New Hampshire does not have the scale to compete with the state of New York, with the state of Illinois,” said Brendan Williams, president of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, which represents the state’s nursing homes.

“If it’s just going to be this sort of Darwinian free-for-all, like ‘Lord of the Flies’ … I don’t know what to say. It’s absolutely unconscionable. It’s unimaginable that this is where we are at right now.”

Some states are working with private manufacturers to convert buildings so they can produce their own medical equipment.

LifeBridge Health is among those taking matters into its own hands.

It converted a building in the Baltimore suburbs into a factory to produce masks. LifeBridge’s head of oncology, who sews, trained 40 staff members how to make the masks, said Durand, the radiologist.

“It’s like a half sewing factory, half surgery suite,” he said.


Coronavirus Resources

See the latest information from the Utah Coronavirus Task Force here.

How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

How To Get Help

If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you can contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 to speak to trained healthcare professionals. You can also use telehealth services through your healthcare providers.

Additional Resources

If you see evidence of PRICE GOUGING, the Utah Attorney General’s Office wants you to report it. Common items in question include toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, certain household cleaners, and even cold medicine and baby formula. Authorities are asking anyone who sees price gouging to report it to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or 800-721-7233. The division can also be reached by email at consumerprotection@utah.gov.

___

Associated Press writers John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas; John O’Connor in Springfield, Illinois; Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, California; Holly Ramer in Concord, New Hampshire, and Alan Suderman in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.

KSL 5 TV Live

Coronavirus

A sign reminding Copper Hills High School students and staff to keep their hands clean during the c...

Lindsay Aerts

Utah school districts working to prioritize what stays when COVID relief money runs dry

Utah's school districts are working to figure out how they will continue to pay for programs propped up by COVID-19 relief funds.

11 days ago

FILE: Former Utah Jazz John Stockton reacts during a 76-70 Wichita State win over the Gonzaga Bulld...

Michael Houck

Former Utah Jazz star John Stockton sues Washington medical director about COVID misinformation policy

Former Utah Jazz superstar John Stockton has filed a federal lawsuit against Washington officials on First Amendment violations, arguing the state's policy of COVID-19 misinformation is unconstitutional.

2 months ago

Deer Creek Reservoir...

Alex Cabrero

State parks expecting another record visitation year, hiring more workers

It didn't matter how cold or snowy it was at Deer Creek State Park Friday afternoon. Nothing was going to stop Leonard Sawyer from taking his boat out to do a little fishing.

3 months ago

FILE —  Respiratory virus illness activity continues to increase across the US.
(Joe Burbank/Orl...

Emma Benson

‘Not viruses to mess around with’: Experts urge caution during ongoing ‘tripledemic’

Experts say though not as severe as last year, this winter we're seeing another "tripledemic" – rising cases of COVID-19, flu and RSV in Utah.

4 months ago

FILE - COVID-19 antigen home tests. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS...

Emma Benson

‘The ICUs are full:’ Keep yourself and others healthy this holiday

It's time for holiday gatherings, but with more people around us comes a greater risk of getting sick.

5 months ago

Julianna Preece goes through the mountain of medical documents she's acquired for her health condit...

Lauren Steinbrecher

Herriman couple is suing CVS, says 5x Covid vaccine dose mistake caused health problems

A couple is suing a Utah CVS vaccination clinic, saying a nurse’s mistake led to the wife receiving five times the normal COVID-19 vaccine dose and caused serious health issues she’s still dealing with today.

6 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 Internet Safety Tips for Kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Hunt For Medical Supplies Creates Marketplace Of Desperation