List of key COVID response issues during the congressional hearing
A shortage in the strategic national stockpile even before the pandemic and the failed efforts of several agencies to coordinate access to personal protective equipment endangered the lives of healthcare workers and weakened the efficiency of US hospitals, clinics. lawmakers and experts who testified before a Senate committee said Wednesday.
“Despite years of warning our nations of the dangers of reliance on foreign sources and manufacturers for medical supplies, our nation was still unprepared to treat significant numbers of covid patients, to stop the spreading the virus and saving lives, ”said Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) in his opening remarks.
More than 580,000 civilians and 4,000 healthcare workers have died during the pandemic.
Shereef Elnahal, president and CEO of Newark New Jersey University Hospital, said many more things would have perished if the CARES Act had not provided funds to allow hospitals to purchase more supplies.
“We found ourselves at risk of running out of supplies we had never seen run out before, including PPE for staff and ventilators for patients who needed it,” Elnahal said. “We were days away from the lack of essential drugs, such as sedatives for patients on ventilators.”
“American exceptionalism has become American pride,” said Dr. Robert Handfield, professor at North Carolina State University. “No one knew where the products came from, if they were being sent and who was receiving them. The response was too little too late.”
There is no current federal policy of distributing emergency supplies on a as-needed basis, which means some have been assigned at random. In other cases, the SNS inventory expired before it reached suppliers.
Handfield recommended that the government enter into contractual incentives with agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs to “straighten out the inventory” and investments in “physical visibility technology” to forecast where supplies should be allocated. The goal would be to protect the supply chain from over-reliance on foreign products and a lack of diversity in manufacturing supplies. Experts said the stock was not prepared to fill these gaps in the supply chain as demand for medical supplies increased during the pandemic.
“The stock has been built up to respond to low-key emergencies, often at the expense of pandemic preparedness,” said Senator Rob Portman (R-OH). According to the committee, the stock had not been replenished following the outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus in 2009.
Meanwhile, Elnahal said value-based payment reform could help the financial solvency and supply of hospitals.
When hospitals were forced to close, they lost income and cash to replenish resources.
Independent hospitals like Elnahal’s ended up bidding. Many of these vendors were outside of the medical community’s supply chain, resulting in often fraudulent or inefficient resources.