It reads like the plot of an action movie: a crew traveled out of state to inspect imported goods, instructed camouflaged trucks to take separate routes away from the deal, faced questions from the F.B.I. and nearly had everything seized by Homeland Security.
But the crew weren’t drug dealers and the goods weren’t contraband; they were healthcare officials trying to get their hands on protective gear for hospital workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Traditionally, in medicine and healthcare, we have typical, reliable supply chain partners and it’s never an issue. Things work like clockwork most of the time,” Dr. Andrew Artenstein told Jim Braude on WGBH News’ Greater Boston Monday. “In these unprecedented days, everything has turned topsy-turvy and we are forced to go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that we have the equipment that we need to take care of our team members.”
Artenstein, the chief physician executive of Baystate Health in Springfield, Mass., said that he and his colleagues went to such lengths after other efforts to buy personal protective equipment, or P.P.E., fell through.
“It was probably overkill in all honesty, but we didn’t know at the time,” he said. “Deals have dissolved at the last minute and we’ve been told they’ve gone various places, including to the federal government.”
This deal, which Artenstein first recounted in the New England Journal of Medicine, was almost derailed by the federal government, too. He said his team was stopped by F.B.I agents working on a new coronavirus-related initiative.
“There were teams across the United States, fanning out to ensure that the scarce material got to hospital sand first responders and not to middlemen or resellers,” he said. “So, in retrospect, I was actually happy about that.”
But Artenstein said even after he and his team verified their credentials, they still almost lost the P.P.E.
“The agents told us … we were all set to go,” he said. “Then, several hours elapsed and we were wondering what was going on. And we were later to learn that they were waiting to hear the consideration from the department of Homeland Security as to whether they might do something different.”
Ultimately, they did get away with the gear. But Artenstein said Baystate Health still doesn’t have enough.
“We don’t have a level we’re comfortable with. We’re okay in some areas and in other areas we’re deficient,” he said.
If they have to, Artenstein added, he and his colleagues will make more trips like that one.
“We have to deal with the situation we’re provided with,” he said. “It’s my job and our job as leaders to bring back the goods to protect our healthcare [workers]. … They’re putting their lives on the line. They’re nervous and anxious like everybody else. We have to make sure they can do that work and feel secure about it.”