States Demand Ventilators, Feds Ration 04/03 06:12
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two weeks ago, the Pentagon promised to make as many as
2,000 military ventilators available as the federal government strains to
contend with the coronavirus pandemic. As of Wednesday, less than half had been
allocated, despite a desperate need across the country.
At the Federal Emergency Management Agency, tasked with coordinating the
federal response to the outbreak, about 9,000 additional ventilators are also
on hold as officials seek to determine where they are needed most urgently.
The combination of scarce supply and high need has sent many states onto the
open market, where they are bidding for ventilators from private manufacturers.
Their competition in that bidding process: both the federal government and
"It's like being on eBay with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator," said
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose state is the epicenter of the pandemic in the
United States. He urged FEMA to step in and act as a single purchaser of the
The slow deployment of ventilators underscores the ways in which the
sprawling federal bureaucracy has fallen short in the crisis. Demand for
medical equipment far outpaces the current supply, and the stockpiles that do
exist aren't enough for the hardest-hit areas. That undercuts the air of
confidence projected by President Donald Trump at his daily briefings.
Cuomo, whose state has had more than 92,000 cases of COVID-19, warned
Thursday that New York has only 2,200 ventilators in its own stockpile after
shipping out 600 to New York City, Westchester and Long Island. He would run
out in six days at this rate.
FEMA has sent 4,400 ventilators to New York, where officials have said they
will likely need 20,000 to 40,000 during the crisis.
It's not just ventilators. FEMA has been able to fill only a fraction of the
requests for protective equipment and medical supplies requested by the five
Mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia, according to documents
released by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, who chairs the Oversight and Reform
The shortfalls include less than 10% of the requested number of N95
protective masks and none of 15,000 body bags requested.
But ventilators have emerged as crucial medical tools in treating patients.
The machines pump air to a person's lungs through a tube inserted in the
windpipe and can be lifesaving for severely ill patients.
The government had 9,961 ventilators as of Thursday, including 9,054 in the
stockpile and 907 from the Department of Defense, according to FEMA.
The Health and Human Services Department, which manages the stockpile, said
Thursday it has 2,109 ventilators that are undergoing required maintenance.
Those are not included in the tally of machines that can be deployed. The goal
is to complete all the maintenance by April 30.
In Louisiana, where coronavirus cases are skyrocketing, Gov. John Bel
Edwards has requested 14,000 ventilators from the federal government and
private companies. To date, the state has received just 442, including 150 that
arrived Wednesday from the national stockpile.
"The 150 will only get us about a day or so, maybe two if we get really
lucky before we've exceeded that capacity again," Edwards said.
FEMA is asking states to answer data-heavy questions to determine where the
most urgent needs exist. Among them: How many usable ventilators, intensive
care beds and machines that can be converted into ventilators are available
within the state? How many anesthesia machines can be converted into
ventilators in the state, and has that happened yet?
"People who have needed ventilators have been able to get on ventilators and
I think that's our goal, with governors and with the mayors, to make sure that
continues to happen," said Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House
coronavirus task force.
FEMA spokeswoman Lizzie Litzow said states should not expect any shipments
until they are within 72 hours of a crisis situation.
Several states have hit that point. The federal government has deployed
2,400 ventilators to New York City, and an additional 2,000 for the rest of the
state. FEMA said Wednesday that it was sending machines from the national
stockpile to Michigan, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut and Louisiana.
Still, the numbers deployed to some of the states pale in comparison to what
officials say they need. Michigan, which reported nearly 10,000 cases as of
Wednesday, says it will need between 5,000-10,000 machines. It received 400
ventilators from FEMA on Tuesday.
Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said Wednesday that his state has nearly
1,000 ventilators and requested an additional 1,500 from the national
stockpile. It received 50.
Lawmakers have called repeatedly on the federal government to publicly
account for how it is distributing ventilators and personal protective
equipment but say they haven't received answers.
The Pentagon's announcement two weeks ago that it had 2,000 ventilators
available appeared good news. But much of that stockpile is earmarked for a
pair of hospital ships and military field hospitals being deployed to take some
of the patient load off other facilities.
About 900 Pentagon ventilators are sitting idle, waiting for FEMA to ask for
FEMA officials say the Pentagon equipment requires additional training
beyond what is typically required for hospital-grade equipment.
Rather than begin that training now, the agency says it is focusing on
allocating conventional ventilators already in its stockpiles. FEMA said those
are the types commonly used by U.S. hospitals and are "better suited for
immediate use." It remains unclear how federal officials plan to address the
issue of training civilians in local hospitals.
Trump has defended his administration's deployment of ventilators and said
the federal government is doing all it can. He has taken steps to compel
General Motors to make more of the machines, though the company was already
moving in that direction before the president's order. He issued an order
Thursday under the Defense Production Act aimed at ensuring manufacturers have
the supplies to make the machines.
GM said in a statement with Ventec last week that they expect to deliver the
first ventilators within weeks and will initially produce more than 10,000 per
Ford, in collaboration with GE Healthcare, said Tuesday it expects to
produce 50,000 of the ventilators within the next 100 days.