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Test Kit Materials Bound for Washington State Seized by Feds

The federal government quietly seized orders for medical supplies made by hospitals April 7. Those seizures came despite President Trump directing states and hospitals to secure supplies to deal with the pandemic.

by David Rasbach, The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.) / April 9, 2020
In this April 2, 2020, file photo, a nurse holds a vial and a swab at a drive-up coronavirus testing station at a hospital in Seattle. A federal report due out Monday, April 6, finds that three out of four U.S. hospitals surveyed are already treating patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File

(TNS) -- A delivery of test kit materials that would have allowed Bellingham’s St. Joseph hospital and other PeaceHealth medical facilities in the Northwest to run COVID-19 tests quicker were seized and diverted by the federal government to the East Coast, PeaceHealth reports.

A response statement from the Federal Emergency Response Management Agency emailed to The Bellingham Herald said, “Reports of FEMA commandeering or re-routing such supplies are false.”

The Los Angeles Times first reported about the federal government quietly seizing orders for medical supplies made by hospitals in a story Tuesday, April 7. Those seizures came despite President Trump directing states and hospitals to secure what supplies they could to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Times reported that PeaceHealth, which has 10 hospitals in Washington, Oregon and Alaska including St. Joseph hospital in Bellingham, was among those impacted.

““It’s incredibly frustrating,” PeaceHealth Chief Operating Officer Richard DeCarlo told the Times. “We had put wheels in motion with testing and protective equipment to allow us to secure and protect our staff and our patients.”

The materials seized from PeaceHealth include vital test kit materials that are needed to run in-house analyzer machines, PeaceHealth Manager of Public Affairs Jeremy Rush told The Bellingham Herald in an email.

Those machines were purchased specifically for COVID-19 testing in PeaceHealth hospitals, Rush reported.

“Our analyzers remain idle, while we continue to send specimens to outside laboratory testing sites, prioritizing labs based on the shortest turnaround times,” Rush wrote.

In Northwest Washington, including St. Joseph hospital, that’s Northwest Labs in Bellingham, Rush reported.

If PeaceHealth hospitals had received the test kit materials and been able to do in-house testing, Rush wrote, and then it more quickly could rule out patients that tested negative for COVID-19. That, in turn, would have allowed the hospital to conserve personal protective equipment at a greater rate.

That being said, Rush stressed that “because of our ongoing planning and preparedness efforts, we continue to be stocked with PPE to meet current demand.”

When the test kit materials were redirected, PeaceHealth simply received information from its supplier that the items were not going to be delivered and told “they had been diverted to the East Coast based on direction from the federal government,” Rush reported.

According to the Los Angeles Times story, hospital and clinic officials in seven states described similar seizures in the past week, though the Federal Emergency Management Agency has not publicly announced the seizures.

FEMA and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection are working to prevent domestic brokers, distributors and others from sending critical medical resources overseas, according to the FEMA statement.

“PPE being distributed internally within the United States is not being seized or re-routed by FEMA,” the statement read.

If a hospital suspects that has happened to an order, the FEMA statement suggested it be reported to their state’s governor. Governors who believe it has happened should report it to the FEMA Region.

“If a company decides to cancel on a state contract in favor of federal one, FEMA will work with the company and the state to resolve the matter in a way that best serves their people,” the statement read.

FEMA also suggests anyone who learns of hoarding or price gouging of PPE to report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud by calling 866-720-5721 or emailing disaster@leo.gov.

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©2020 The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)

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