Why Does the Trump Administration Keep Seizing Hospitals’ Coronavirus Supplies?

Luke Darby

When it comes to fighting coronavirus, the states are on their own. At least according to Donald Trump. At a press briefing in mid-March, he angrily told reporters, "Governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work," adding, "the federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items, and then shipping. We&aposre not a shipping clerk. As with testing—the governors are supposed to be doing it." In one Twitter thread from early April, he claimed that any states that aren&apost getting enough supplies are lying for political reasons, then pivoted, acknowledging that shortages are real but it&aposs the states&apos fault. He wrote, "Some have insatiable appetites & are never satisfied (politics?). Remember, we are a backup for them. The complainers should have been stocked up and ready long before this crisis hit."

Video: Why Social Distancing Is the Only Chance to Beat the Coronavirus

White House adviser Jared Kushner—who, as head of the government&aposs coronavirus response, told Trump governors were exaggerating the impact of the outbreak—is making similar arguments. He told reporters that the federal stockpile of emergency medical supplies wasn&apost for states and their residents anyway, saying at one press briefing, "The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile; it’s not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use." Neither Kushner nor Trump ever clarified who "our" refers to or who the federal stockpile is for if not Americans who live in those states.

And it turns out that even states&apos own medical supplies aren&apost for the states either. According to the Los Angeles Times, the federal government, after waiting nearly two months acquire life-saving ventilators and N95 masks, has been seizing equipment from hospitals all over the country, confiscating them with no explanation. A representative for FEMA told the Times that the Department of Health and Human Services had implemented a system that redirected supplies to wherever the need is greatest, but declined to give any more information or say where, exactly, the seized equipment was going. This comes after inconsistent efforts to meet states&apos needs: Florida, a swing state with an aggressively pro-Trump Republican governor, received everything it requested within three days, while other states like Oregon, Oklahoma, and New Jersey all got less than 10 percent of the equipment they asked for.

"We can’t get any answers," one California hospital official told the Times. Another said, "Are they stockpiling this stuff? Are they distributing it? We don’t know. And are we going to ever get any of it back if we need supplies? It would be nice to know these things." PeaceHealth, a 10-hospital system in the Pacific northwest and Alaska, had a shipment of testing supplies seized recently. "We had put wheels in motion with testing and protective equipment to allow us to secure and protect our staff and our patients," said Richard DeCarlo, the system’s chief operating officer. "It’s incredibly frustrating," he added.

In late March, New York governor Andrew Cuomo called on states to band together to buy supplies and equipment from private suppliers, rather than bidding against each other. "On purchasing, you can’t have a situation where 50 states are competing with each other to buy the same material," he said. "That is what is happening now. We’re literally bidding up the prices ourselves." That is, in theory, a role that the federal government should be fulfilling, acting as a single massive entity negotiating for better prices on bulk supplies. The Trump administration, either by design or negligence, is refusing to act in that capacity and now seems to be competing against states as well: The head of the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, Jose Camacho, told the Times his group was trying to purchase a small order of just 20,000 masks, and the federal government bought it out from under them. "Everyone says you are supposed to be on your own," Camacho said. "Then to have this happen, you just sit there wondering what else you can do. You can’t fight the federal government."

The Trump administration has distributed some supplies from the federal stockpile though. Last week, Alabama reported receiving 6,000 protective masks with a 2010 expiration date and so much dry rot that they were unusable.

Originally Appeared on GQ