As hospitals across the country continue to deal with shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and states compete for supplies, Artenstein described his team's particularly desperate quest a couple weeks ago to obtain face masks and N95 respirators in an article published Friday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"some bizarre and convoluted, and many involving large sums of money" that fell through after they were "outbid or outmuscled," in some cases, by the federal government…
Actually you had to fit test them to assure that the seal on the face.
But the fact that we even thought about being able to get this equipment back to Massachusetts and the concern that it could've been redirected at any point along the way just shows you the situation I think that many health systems and hospitals are in.
Here's where things get weird...even weirder.
……to meet the supplier at an industrial warehouse. There, two semi-trucks marked as food-service vehicles waited to be loaded before heading back north on two different routes "to minimize the chances that their contents would be detained or redirected."
But before they could send the payment for the supplies by wire transfer, two FBI agents showed up and started questioning Artenstein.
Our understanding is that they told us this wasn't just us.
They were fanning out teams across various parts of the United States in response to some reports apparently that some of this material was going to resellers and to places other than hospitals.
After showing the agents his credentials and reassuring them that the masks were going to hospitals and weren't meant for the black market, Artenstein said the officials allowed them to proceed and load the PPE into the trucks.
In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News, the FBI said that as a result of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump prohibiting the hoarding of medical supplies, the agency has been investigating the distribution of PPE to ensure it is not being illegally sold or hoarded.
…it is distinctively unusual in my experience in the profession to ever have anything like that happened, especially with something as relative benign as masks.
But then Artenstein said he learned that the Department of Homeland Security was considering seizing the shipment and directing the PPE elsewhere. So his team called their representative in Congress, Rep. Richard Neal, who he said intervened to prevent the federal government from derailing in the deal.
“After a series of calls with very cooperative representatives from DHS and HHS, who recognized the importance of the shipment and the urgency to get it to the hospital, the PPE was released," Neal said in a statement emailed to BuzzFeed News Tuesday.
I read your story and I hear "industrial warehouse", "two semis that are mislabeled as food distribution trucks", "the FBI", "the Department of Homeland Security". I don't know if you're a fan of the Netflix show "Ozark", but that's what it sort of called to mind for me.
That'll be enough to sustain us for the short run, not for the long run though. Because there's a lot of patients, and there is a lot of care that goes on, and you need to keep these masks fresh and ensure that they're doing the job.
Artenstein said that while the number of COVID-19 cases in Baystate's hospitals appears to have plateaued and as government officials talk about plans to begin reopening parts of the economy, obtaining adequate PPE is an ongoing problem.
And to be totally honest with you, this is unprecedented unusual times. And we have to do what we need to do to protect our team members who are caring for these patients. That's our obligation, and I think we're no different than other hospitals or health systems.
"It would be improper to think that we have completely resolved these challenges because I can tell you on a daily basis they still continue, and I don't think we're alone in that," he said. "If we were alone, we would be able to get these things ... [and] go through our usual channels."