Help from ventilator stockpile inconsistent as states appeal to feds, Trump

Admin. officials have denied politics plays a role in supply distribution.

April 10, 2020, 6:02 PM

Hours after Republican Sen. Cory Gardner ended his phone call Tuesday evening with President Trump where he stressed the need for Colorado to receive more ventilators to treat coronavirus patients, a presidential directive arrived via tweet.

“Will be immediately sending 100 Ventilators to Colorado at the request of Senator Gardner!” Trump wrote.

The problem is the state had requested 10,000 ventilators through official channels nearly a month ago.

The episode was reflective of what critics call the federal government's at times erratic system for supporting states in battling the coronavirus pandemic -- one in which it helps to appear on the president's personal radar, and where some states are given far less than they asked for, while some others see a bounty.

Following a call with administration officials Wednesday afternoon, Colorado Democrat Rep. Diana DeGette expressed concern to her colleagues about the way in which the federal government was prioritizing ventilators and who gets what, sources familiar with the call said.

DeGette said she was “totally outraged” by the request, telling CNN in an interview Wednesday evening, “I think this thing that happened with Senator Gardner and President Trump is very disturbing. What is the process here?”

“Nowhere did it say if a Republican senator calls up the president they can get it,” DeGette said, referring to the process of requesting ventilators.

In less than 24 hours the president has been quick to announce supplies will go to states when the request has been made publicly from his political allies.

Last week, Trump ally Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., received word the administration would be sending immediate help to Suffolk County, New York.

“And at the request of Congressman Lee Zeldin out in Long Island, we will also be delivering another 200,000 N-95 masks to Suffolk County where they need it very badly,” Trump said Sunday. Zeldin’s office said he communicated directly with White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and chief of staff Mark Meadows.

The delivery to Suffolk County arrived as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said personal protective equipment, known as PPE, are in “short supply” in the state and he has asked companies to make more.

PHOTO: Sen. Cory Gardner joins President Donald Trump on stage during a Keep America Great rally on February 20, 2020 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Sen. Cory Gardner joins President Donald Trump on stage during a Keep America Great rally on February 20, 2020 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images, FILE

Florida, a state that has lagged behind others in their response measures but whose governor is close with the president, received all their requested supplies from the federal government within days of the request. When the president was asked why Florida had received 100% of its request for supplies compared to other states having difficulty, he said the state was “very aggressive in trying to get things.”

Administration officials have denied politics plays a role and explained the distribution of ventilators and PPE is based on a number of different factors in each state.

“I can tell you, within that decision complex is not just the absolute number of cases. It’s the hospital capacity and what each of those hospitals have,” Dr. Deborah Birx said on Wednesday when asked if a state’s personal relationship with the president is helping some states, like Colorado, get ventilators. “So different states have different -- which I don’t think any of us probably knew before this, but there are some states that have lots of ventilators, and there’s other states that, proportion to their population or by their cases of COVID, have less.”

Prior to Gardner’s call with the president, Colorado was having little luck receiving any ventilators from the federal government’s stockpile.

The state put in a request for 10,000 ventilators on March 19 based on its initial peak need prediction, but the request was put on hold because the Strategic National Stockpile had “received requests for far more ventilators than are available,” an Emergency Operations Center logistics officer with the Colorado state health department told ABC News.

The Emergency Operations Center logistics officer told ABC News “all ventilator requests were put on hold and Colorado was no exception.”

On April 3, Colorado submitted its second request for ventilators from the federal government -- this time a “next 72 hour request” for 1,000 ventilators, after an updated modeling showed that its peak need would be closer to 5,000.

That same night, Gov. Jared Polis said on CNN that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) swooped in to take away Colorado’s order to purchase 500 ventilators from a private company. It's not yet clear if the FEMA took away Colorado's 500 ventilators deal prior to the April 3 request.

And on April 8, the day after Gardner’s call with the president, the state was notified it would get 100 ventilators, but without a specific date on when they would arrive, a state official said.

FEMA told lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee during a briefing last month that most of the 100,000 ventilators that President Trump has promised will not be available until late June at the earliest, according to a readout of the briefing from the committee's Democrats -- a timeline the president confirmed this week.

"In addition to the 8,675 ventilators, we have 2,200 arriving on April 13th. We have 5,500 arriving on May 4. These are the ones we are building, for the most part, and we have, as you know, we have great companies building them -- Ford, general motors, G.E. -- we have really some great companies that are doing it," Trump said Tuesday.

"On May 18th, we have 12,000, on June 1st, we have 20,000. On June 29th, we have 60,000 ventilators coming," he added.

In Massachusetts, which was among the early states to become coronavirus hotspots and currently has the sixth most cases out of any state, Gov. Charlie Baker that the state will receive 1,000 ventilators from the national stockpile out of the 1,700 it has requested. But Baker revealed earlier this week that his state has only received 100 ventilators from the federal government.

Massachusetts lawmakers, including Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, said in a letter to FEMA this week that 100 ventilators was “grossly insufficient” and asked the agency to provide an answer by April 15 as to why the federal government initially said the state would be receiving 900 more ventilators than it ultimately received.

On the other hand, Georgia and Maryland, two states with Republican governors, received 150 and 138 ventilators respectively from the Strategic National Stockpile, despite having far fewer cases. Georgia had originally requested 250 ventilators, and Maryland had requested 200.

Even Oregon, which only recently saw over 1,000 cases in the state, received 100% of its request --140 ventilators -- from the federal government, more than Massachusetts. Oregon later sent those 140 ventilators to New York “because Oregon is in a better position right now,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said earlier this month.

At the time, Oregon had about 800 ventilators in the state, with only about 38 in use by COVID-19 patients, Brown said.

In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont said late last week that the state’s model projects a peak in about two to three weeks, beginning in Fairfield County, which is the closest county to New York.

Lamont said he has received little help from the federal government and told ABC News in an interview last week that the state requested 1,500 ventilators from the federal government months ago but had only received 50. The state is expected to need 4,000 ventilators, but currently only has about 1,000 total.

Lamont told ABC News his biggest concern is that the federal government is overlooking his state’s needs because it “doesn’t think of Southern Connecticut as part of the whole New York City pandemic.”

“New York City, Jersey City and Southern Connecticut are all part of the same regional hotspot. New York has gotten a lot of the PPE and obviously our overall numbers make us look like we're a lot less, but actually as a region we're the fourth most infected state in the country,” Lamont said. "So my worry is, we've got plenty of capacity I think in our hospitals and people but what we don't have are the ventilators and that's going to cause a lot of death.”

Michigan, which has quickly become one of the hotspots, received 400 ventilators from the national stockpile in late March and currently has about 3,000 in the state, but the state’s chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun projected Michigan is going to need “thousands more.”

Vice President Mike Pence announced on Tuesday that 100 of those ventilators will be going to New York, 100 to New Jersey, 100 to Illinois, 50 to Maryland, 50 to Washington, D.C., 50 to Delaware and 50 to Nevada.

Nevada, which has nearly 50% of its ventilators in use as of this week, has also requested 450 machines through FEMA but the request status is on hold, according to a spokesperson for the Nevada Department of Health.

Meanwhile in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has caused a stir this week by sending 500 ventilators to other states across the country while some of its counties are scrambling to secure ventilators.

In Riverside County, the health district projected that the county will reach its capacity in ventilators by the end of the month and asked for an additional 500 ventilators from the state in late March, but the request was denied. Santa Clara County has issued an order requiring individuals and entities holding large quantities of ventilators and PPE to report their inventory to the county, and through a partnership with the Valley Medical Center Foundation, is offering a $1,000 incentive for ventilators.

Newsom responded to the criticism during a press conference on Thursday, saying that the state is currently using only 31.89% of the hospital systems’ existing ventilator capacity, excluding the ventilators procured by the state. He added that the ventilator stockpiles are pre-positioned strategically throughout the state so they can be deployed to those in need within hours.

Riverside County’s first district supervisor Kevin Jeffries said he did receive an email from the governor Thursday morning reassuring him that the state will provide his county with the necessary equipment when the time comes.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who has announced hundreds of COVID-19 deaths and thousands of new cases every day, has repeatedly thanked the California governor, stressing the importance of the help as nearly 97 percent of New Jersey COVID-19 patients in critical care are on ventilators. New Jersey also received about 850 ventilators from the federal government.

“New Jersey cannot thank you enough. And note too that we will repay this favor,” Murphy said Wednesday.

“We are all in this together, and we will support our fellow Americans at every step of the way just as they’re supporting us in New Jersey,” he said.

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