By Seth Klamann
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — More than 2.4 million gloves, masks, gowns and other coronavirus-related supplies requested by Wyoming have yet to be delivered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, drawing the ire of Gov. Mark Gordon amid nationwide frustrations about shipments being diverted.
“We’re supposed to reach out to see if we can get supplies,” Gordon said at a Wednesday press conference. “What we’re finding, more often than any of us would like, is those supplies are being diverted.”
According to numbers provided to the Star-Tribune, Wyoming has asked FEMA for 75,000 N95 respirators, 97,000 surgical masks, 22,000 face shields, 74,000 surgical gowns, 500 coveralls, 2.2 million gloves and 50 ventilators.
To date, none of those supplies have been delivered.
A FEMA spokeswoman said Wednesday she’d heard the governor’s remarks and that “FEMA can assure him that the requests are in and being worked.”
In an email with agency talking points sent to the Star-Tribune, FEMA writes that an agency task force “is working with major commercial distributors to facilitate the rapid distribution of critical resources in short supply to locations where they are needed most.”
“Bottom line,” the spokeswoman said, “supplies are being (strategically) distributed.” The unfilled orders come as providers across the state and the country warn that their stores of protective gear — needed by health care workers treating coronavirus patients — are in short supply.
In Casper, officials have described shortages as “critical” and “desperate.”
Community members across the state have donated and hand-crafted masks for hospitals and clinics in an effort to supplant the sagging supply chains.
But earlier this week, Wyoming Medical Center said it had as many as 1,000 donated face masks disappear from its laundry room.
Gordon said other neighboring states with relatively low caseloads were having similar issues with the federal government.
It appears to be a widespread frustration: Colorado Gov. Jared Polis told CNN earlier this week that FEMA had “swept up” a request for 500 ventilators. The head of a Kentucky hospital system told members of Congress that four shipments of protective gear were taken by FEMA before they could be delivered, according to the New York Times.
And last week, Gordon and Wyoming’s head of homeland security, Lynn Budd, said FEMA had “preempted” shipments here to send elsewhere in the country.
On Thursday, Homeland Security spokeswoman Kelly Ruiz said Wyoming officials had been told on a conference call with FEMA that shipments of supplies were being diverted by the federal government to other hot spots in the country.
Asked about the conference call, a FEMA spokeswoman said Ruiz “misunderstood or misheard” and reiterated the FEMA wasn’t “blocking or diverting shipments.”
Ruiz, in her conversation with the Star-Tribune, did not specifically say FEMA was blocking or diverting the shipments.
The supply line problem isn’t isolated to state government here.
Eric Boley, the head of the Wyoming Hospital Association, said at least two hospitals have had shipments pulled; one was a batch of hand sanitizer and the other was testing supplies. Both of those shipments were from the hospitals’ normal vendors, Boley said, and at least one of the facilities was told explicitly that FEMA was behind the preemption.
The FEMA spokeswoman told the Star-Tribune on Wednesday that the agency hadn’t diverted any Wyoming shipments that she could find and that the agency was working on the state’s orders for materials.
She said that some hospitals’ vendors have used FEMA as an excuse to get larger contracts.
She said there was a “false narrative that FEMA is seizing supplies meant for states.”
Boley said he had repeated “exactly” what at least one of the Wyoming hospitals was told: that FEMA was behind an undelivered shipment.
“I can’t really understand why our suppliers or vendors would make excuses,” he said. “It would be easier to just say there’s a shortage as opposed to coming up with an elaborate excuse.”
Karen Connelly, a spokeswoman for St. John’s Health in Jackson, said that the hospital has received some shipments from a national stockpile, though the deliveries have been “in much smaller allocations than what we said we need.”
“In addition, when we have tried to place orders with our overseas suppliers we have been told that they won’t be able to fulfill our orders because the shipments would be seized at customs and redirected,” she said.
Asked if she knew which agency or government entity was allegedly seizing materials, she replied she did not know.
A Wyoming Medical Center spokeswoman said that hospital hasn’t experienced any of those supply issues.
In a joint statement between FEMA and Customs and Border Protection, the agencies wrote that Customs and Border Protection “will detain shipments of the (personal protective equipment)” that are set to be exported overseas. Connelly indicated that the shipment she was referring to was moving in the opposite direction: from an overseas company headed to Wyoming.
While Wyoming’s requests for supplies from FEMA have yet to be filled, the state has received some supplies from the national stockpile.
According to figures provided to the Star-Tribune, the state has received 60,000 respirators (out of 71,294 requested); 143,500 masks (out of 169,344 requested); 21,356 face shields (out of 36,126 requested); 14,796 surgical gowns (out of 29,699 requested); 312 coveralls (out of 1,786 requested); and 35,800 gloves (out of 198,538 requested).
The state didn’t receive or request any ventilators.
But the federal government has said that the national stockpile is essentially empty.
On Wednesday, Gordon called the situation with FEMA “terribly frustrating” and said he’d spoken to Vice President Mike Pence about the issue.
Gordon’s spokesman, Michael Pearlman, said earlier this week that FEMA had sent Wyoming “zilch.”
“What I do know,” Pearlman said, “is that just like every other state in the country, what happened is if you think you have supplies, either getting lined up through the federal government or FEMA, the government is coming in and superseding those orders or directing them to places more hard-hit.”
Wyoming is not lacking in just protective gear.
The rapid-response tests that have been touted by federal officials — including at a White House press conference — have been delivered here but in significantly low numbers.
A Health Department spokeswoman told the Star-Tribune on Thursday that Wyoming had received 15 machines to run the tests and only 120 cartridges — the devices that test samples are put into to be processed. It’s unclear how those few tests and machines will be distributed, and if and when supplies will be replenished.