Topline: An internal government watchdog report released Monday offers the first glimpse into the Department of Health and Human Services’ response to the coronavirus outbreak, with hospitals saying conflicting guidance, along with equipment shortages, has left healthcare workers feeling their safety isn’t insured while treating COVID-19 patients.
- The report was conducted from March 22 to March 27, with 323 hospitals surveyed.
- The report describes severe equipment shortages, with hospitals unable to obtain the masks and protective gear required to keep workers safe.
- Faulty or expired equipment was received by some hospitals, with one describing the elastic bands on N95 masks as having rotted, or were sized for children, instead of adults.
- Thermometer shortages also left hospitals unable to take employees’ temperatures, the report said, leaving them unable to monitor staff for signs of the coronavirus.
- A shortage of testing kits was also reported, with wait times for results up to one week, decreasing bed availability in hospitals and forcing workers to use up more protective gear.
- Ventilator shortages left hospitals scrambling to repurpose anesthesia machines or double up patients on one machine, the report said, with hospitals fearing “difficult decisions about ethical allocation and liability.”
Crucial quote: “I think one moment that stands out for me is when I was talking to a hospital administrator and he told me that he had staff in the hospital out trying to procure masks and gloves from auto part shops, from home supply stores, from beauty salons, from art supply stores,” Ann Maxwell, assistant inspector general for HHS, told NBC News. “It is unprecedented.”
Big number: Over 337,000. That’s how many COVID-19 cases are in the U.S, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Over 9,600 have died—and President Trump predicted “a lot of death” this week.
Key background: The watchdog report was ordered by the inspector general of HHS, CNN reported March 23. According to the inspector general’s website, the survey was conducted in order to provide the department with “timely feedback on how they can support hospitals in responding to COVID-19,” but was not supposed to be considered a review of HHS’ response to the pandemic. In a statement to NBC News, HHS said “Secretary Alex Azar has already taken action on a recommendation in this report, requesting, among a series of proposals, that governors allow licensed healthcare providers to practice across state lines” and said support for hospitals and healthcare workers would continue. Hospitals criticized the guidance they received from HHS, however, with one administrator telling the watchdog: “Government needs to provide guidelines on ethics if health resources are limited and decisions need to be made about which patients to treat.”