U.S. veterans hospitals have only about a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment at the ready for staff use should a second wave of COVID-19 strike the nation, a VA official told a Senate committee this week.
Dr. Richard Stone, executive in charge of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, testified that the agency operates on a just-in-time supply system for its 170 hospitals and clinics. It was working on improving its supply chain before the coronavirus struck the U.S., but virus-related delays in imports of PPE early in the pandemic disrupted the system.
Pressed by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Stone said that if a second coronavirus wave hit in the next two weeks, the VA would have a 30-day supply of PPE and other needed medical items available — an amount that Stone admitted was inadequate. He noted that at the height of the pandemic, the VA was going through 250,000 N95 respirators per day, according to a report by the Associated Press. The agency employs more than 18,800 medical workers and plans to add more.
“I believe that we need to move to a 60-day supply,” Stone said, according to a news release from Tester’s office. “I believe that for a full second wave, we’ll need an additional six months of supply and either that can be supplied by the vendors, the manufacturing system, or must be in our readiness centers.”
These four regional “readiness centers” will be set up to manage and supply up to 180 days’ worth of PPE and other critical medical items such as ventilators and dialysis machines for VA hospitals and clinics, Stone said.
The VA is spending $100 million per month on PPE, compared with $10 million per month before the pandemic, Stone noted. U.S. manufacturers should boost production, he added.
Tester and Veterans Affairs committee co-chair, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) earlier this week asked the Trump administration to use the Defense Production Act to provide PPE and other supplies to VA health facilities. The administration first used the Korean War-era act, which enables extraordinary government actions to boost needed supplies, in March to order General Motors to proceed with a plan to manufacture ventilators with Bothell, Wash.-based Ventec Life Systems.