The nation’s hospitals are dealing with “severe” and “widespread” shortages of needed medical supplies, hampering the ability to test and respond to the coronavirus pandemic adequately and protect medical staff, according to a new report from a government inspector general.
The findings by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services describe a dire situation for front-line doctors and medical staff as cases mount in hospitals.
The assessment, the first internal government look at the response, was based on interviews from March 23-27 with administrators from more than 300 hospitals across 46 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.
“The emergence of Covid-19 created unprecedented challenges for the US hospital system,” HHS Assistant Inspector General for Evaluation and Inspections, Ann Maxwell, told CNN. “The role of this report is to provide a platform for these experiences in a point of time” and help inform decisions.
The report provides an accounting of the shortages faced by hospitals nationwide in trying to obtain equipment for staff and patients, including the avenues some hospitals turned to to acquire those items, like online retailers and paint stores. It also details the challenges hospitals faced in trying to keep up with testing demands and the inconsistent guidance that caused confusion.
The report is not a review of the Health and Human Service Department’s response to the coronavirus outbreak and acknowledges the pandemic is “fast-moving, as are the efforts to address it.”
“Since our interviews, some hospital challenges may have worsened and others may have improved,” the report states.
When asked about the report during Monday’s coronavirus press briefing, President Donald Trump questioned whether politics tinged the findings of the report.
“Give me the name of the inspector general. Could politics be entered into that?” Trump said.
Trump also questioned the integrity of the leadership in HHS’ Office of the Inspector General, saying, “Well where did he come from, the inspector general? What’s his name?”
The report was signed by a woman – Christi Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general for HHS. Grimm has served in the federal government for more than two decades in both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Multiple media reports have revealed the obstacles before hospitals in trying to protect their own staff, while also treating an onslaught of patients. Among those obstacles has been the lack of testing.
According to the HHS IG report, the shortage of testing supplies, coupled with delays in results, led to patients staying in beds longer, staff using personal protective equipment that they may not have needed to use, and staff possibly exposing themselves to patients with the virus without knowing.
Hospitals reported waiting seven days or longer for test results, the HHS IG found. One hospital said 24 hours would usually be considered an extensive wait time for virus testing.
“An administrator at another hospital noted that the sooner the hospital knows whether patients are negative, the faster it can move them to a lower level of care that consumes fewer resources,” the report reads. “As one administrator put it, ‘sitting with 60 patients with presumed positives in our hospital isn’t healthy for anybody.’”