Members of Massachusetts' congressional delegation sent a letter to the federal government Wednesday evening urging action in remedying the shortage of protective health care gear, like masks, many local hospitals are facing.
The senators and representatives, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, want more information about when a shipment of more protective equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) can be expected at Massachusetts hospitals.
"Protecting our frontline health care workers by providing personal protective equipment must be a top public health priority," the delegation wrote in the letter, which was obtained by WGBH News. "When should Massachusetts expect to receive the full set of protective equipment from the SNS? Will Massachusetts be receiving this protective equipment in multiple shipments, or will they receive the equipment in a single shipment? What steps, if any, can Massachusetts take to expedite the delivery of protective equipment from the SNS?"
The letter was addressed to Alex Azar, secretary of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for Preparedness and Response. Department officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The outbreak of a novel coronavirus in the state has meant a surge of patients seeking medical attention. The pandemic has forced some hospitals, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital, to reuse items such as disposable surgical and procedural masks as well as protective eye wear. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance saying that such reuse is not part of the U.S. standard of care, it can be done when necessary.
Gov. Charlie Baker has expressed exasperation with the federal government’s response to state requests for more personal protective equipment, called PPE. “Just tell us what the schedule is,” Baker was quoted as saying earlier this week.
On March 5, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health requested items such as respirator face masks, surgical masks, gloves, eye protection, and surgical gowns from the stockpile. While the state requested 750,000 of each item, Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said on March 14 that the state had only received about 10 percent of what was requested. Plus, she added, a significant amount of the shipment was given to Berkshire Medical Center, where there was a cluster of coronavirus cases and which was in dire need of more equipment.
In the letter, the elected officials requested information on whether the federal government has identified "private sector entities" to help provide PPE for both Massachusetts and other states.
The delegation also requested information on whether the federal government had any other resources or recommendations for states facing shortages of personal protective equipment.