More than 2,000 ventilators, a key piece of equipment to treat coronavirus patients, in the federal stockpile are unavailable to be deployed because the Trump administration failed to maintain the devices as they were in storage, according to The New York Times.
President Donald Trump said Tuesday that the federal government is withholding 10,000 ventilators from distribution because of an anticipated surge in Covid-19 cases. But an additional 2,109 ventilators are out of commission because maintenance of the devices was halted during a contracting dispute, the Times reported Wednesday.
States are scrambling for ventilators and requesting thousands of the devices from the federal government, only to receive a few hundred. Trump has insisted that states are requesting more ventilators than they need.
When its contract with Vyaire Medical to maintain some of the stockpile ventilators expired at the end of August, the government awarded a broader contract to Agiliti, according to the Times.
That led Vyaire Medical to protest the decision and the contract dispute was not resolved until January, the Times reported.
During that roughly five-month period, maintenance on the machines halted, according to the newspaper.
“We were given a stop-work order before we’d even started,” Agiliti’s chief executive, Tom Leonard, told the Times.
Experts say ventilators cannot be stored for long periods without upkeep, the Times noted.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Saturday the state had received 170 broken ventilators from the federal government.
The Department of Health and Human Services told the Times that the issues with some of the deployed ventilators were limited to their external batteries and that federal officials were quick to help the states with technical issues.
Even after its contract expired, Vyaire Medical was still receiving thousands of ventilators for restoration — work that is still ongoing, according to the Times.
Vyaire Medical’s vice president of US sales, Aric Vacchiano, told the Times that the company has been fielding calls as hospitals hurry to get the ventilators working again.
“We’re not hearing or seeing units showing up being truly or fundamentally broken,” Vacchiano told the Times, adding that “they probably have not been maintained.”
Agiliti began maintaining the ventilators in late January, when it started becoming clear that coronavirus was a global threat, according to the newspaper. Leonard told the Times that Agiliti was not responsible for the faults in the ventilators.
“Between the time of the original and the time of this contract award, I don’t know who was responsible or if anybody was responsible for those devices. But it was not us,” he told the paper.
Without giving a specific number due to its confidentiality agreement with the government, Leonard told the Times that the company still has “that first tranche of ventilators, although we’re accelerating the work to get them deployable.”
“We haven’t seen or touched or had anything to do with the ones that have already been deployed to date,” he added.
An HHS spokeswoman did not reply to the Times’ questions about what had occurred to the ventilator maintenance during the contract lapse.
She told the Times, however, that the agency had accelerated the contract with Agiliti to make the 2,109 ventilators available by April 30.