In preparation for a surge in coronavirus patients, Massachusetts has requested 1,700 ventilators from the national stockpile. Gov. Charlie Baker says the federal government has committed to sending them at least 1,000 of the “desperately” needed respiratory machines.
But so far, 100 have arrived. And the state’s congressional delegation says it’s “absurd.”
In a letter Monday to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, all 11 members of the Massachusetts delegation expressed “frustration” that the government still hadn’t delivered the vast majority of the promised ventilators, with state officials projecting that the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations will peak between April 10 and April 20. And while most people who contract the disease have mild symptoms, the breathing machines can provide life-saving support for those who fall seriously ill.
“Given the growing need in Massachusetts, approving and sending only 100 ventilators to Massachusetts is absurd,” said the letter Monday, which was sent by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, along with the nine Democrats who represent the Bay State in Congress.
“FEMA can and must do more to help Massachusetts during this crisis,” the letter added.
The state’s elected officials and health care workers have been scrambling to increase the number of ventilators — among other critical types of medical equipment — ahead of the expected deluge of patients. The Boston Globe reported last month that there are already an estimated 1,400 ventilators in Massachusetts, which is around the national average on a per-person basis, but not enough to handle the anticipated surge.
Officials say the amount needs to at least double.
Baker — who has also expressed frustration with the process of procuring more medical supplies — announced last week that the federal government had approved to send to Massachusetts “at least 1,000” of the state’s demand for “between 1,000 and 1,400 ventilators.” According of a congressional delegation staffer, the state has since increased its request to 1,700 in internal conversations with FEMA.
During a press conference Monday afternoon, Baker confirmed that the first 100 ventilators had arrived and were being sent to community hospitals and academic medical centers. The Republican governor said over the weekend that he believed the ventilators would be delivered incrementally by the federal government.
“We don’t believe this is the last shipment,” he said Sunday. “We fully expect that we’ll get additional ventilators over the next two weeks.”
Still, as the stockpile’s dwindling supply of ventilators get distributed, Massachusetts lawmakers are worried about the status of the state’s allotment. FEMA said Friday that it had 9,000 ventilators left in the stockpile and had sent out more than 7,000 to other states, including 4,400 to New York. However, the agency only stated plans to deliver 100 ventilators to Massachusetts, along with 300 to Michigan and 200 Louisiana, which have also been hit hard by the pandemic.
“FEMA officials have indicated to congressional staff that FEMA and its HHS counterparts plan to provide only 100 ventilators at this time,” said the delegation’s letter Monday.
The lawmakers asked FEMA for a timeline for when — or if — the agency plans to fulfill the rest of the state’s request in order to prevent a “catastrophic” shortage.
The plea comes as the number of reported cases in the state increases by more than a thousand each day, nearing 14,000 this week. As of Monday afternoon, there were 260 confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 in Massachusetts. The number could surpass 2,000 under the state’s worst-case projections.
“We have heard from hospitals in the state that they will run out of invasive ventilators in a matter of days and will run out of other ventilators that can be adapted for use for COVID-19 patients within a week,” the lawmakers wrote.
They requested a response from FEMA by no later than April 15. By that time, state officials expect to be in the midst of the outbreak’s peak in Massachusetts.
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