As the coronavirus crisis was raging, and hospitals were scrambling to obtain masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his counterparts in nearby states joined forces.
“New York State alone buys about $2 billion of medical supplies this year,” Cuomo said during his May 3 press conference. “We’re going to form a consortium with our seven northeast partner states to buy about $5 billion dollars worth of equipment and supplies,” he explained.
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts agreed to coordinate on buying the PPE and other equipment their hospitals needed, saying this would stabilize the supply chain, stop the states from bidding against each other, and reduce prices.
“You know, why are we buying all this material from China? Literally billions of dollars of PPE,” Cuomo explained then.
The plan also included having local and regional companies produce PPE with the goal of scaling production to meet demand in these states by early August.
But about three-and-a-half months later, it appears most of those promises have not yet been fulfilled.
Since early July, NY1 has repeatedly reached out to officials in the seven states in the compact. The states could provide little evidence that a regional supply chain was being developed. Some simply would not respond at all.
Will Burns, a spokesperson for the governor, said in a statement “we are sharing best practices and trusted vendors with our neighbors and continuing our work to establish a regional purchasing strategy that will increase our market power and help procure PPE at a lower price.”
The state also says it has awarded more than $11 million dollars in grants to 20 New York companies to manufacture PPE.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s press secretary Alyana Alfaro Post added in a separate statement, “Regional efforts in regard to the PPE supply chain ensure the [sic] we prevent competition between our states and foster collaboration as we seek to procure these critical resources. We will continue to assess our PPE needs and leverage our regional supply chain as necessary."
Health Department Commissioner Howard Zucker said during a May 12 hearing that New York has distributed around 24 million pieces of equipment.
But at the same hearing, some lawmakers expressed concern that some hospitals did not have a 90-day supply of protective equipment, as ordered by the governor in May in preparation for a potential surge in cases this fall.
“I know at least one hospital in my district is having a hard time obtaining the necessary mask - the 90-day supply, specifically small N95 masks, which was a problem throughout the challenging part of the crisis,” said Senator Jen Metzger.
“Your colleagues have noted the issues on the PPE,” responded Jim Malatras, president of Empire State College. “And that's why we are working with the healthcare association to make sure every hospital has what they need to build it up.”
City Council Member Carlina Rivera chairs the committee on hospitals. She says the state must ensure that private and public hospitals collaborate on the acquisition of PPE.
“To make sure that those hospitals that were in these neighborhoods that were disproportionately affected, black and brown, low income immigrant communities, that those hospitals have the PPE that they need,” said Rivera.
“I think the public has the right to know what the status of the PPE supply chain is and also as policy makers prepare responses to the PPE shortage,” added Senator Brad Hoylman. “In no circumstances should we repeat the mistakes of earlier in this virus where particularly our frontline medical workers were inadequately protected against COVID-19.”