Time for FEMA to take charge and #GetUsPPE

Kevin B. O'Reilly , News Editor

What’s the news: The AMA is calling on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to lead a national system of procuring and distributing personal protective equipment (PPE).

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“This would not only provide critical clarity and reduction in administrative burden, but would also allow states and hospitals to benefit from the tremendous bargaining power of the federal government,” AMA Executive Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, MD, wrote in a letter to Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, who is heading FEMA’s Supply Chain Stabilization Task Force.

The AMA also is urging FEMA “to serve as the single national coordinator of distribution of these supplies, ensuring that states, hospitals and other facilities have one centralized agency to work through to acquire essential PPE.”

Why it’s important: In a letter to President Trump, the AMA detailed why strong federal leadership is needed to buy and distribute PPE, yet there has been frustratingly little movement on the issue even as supply “shortages have been rampant across the United States,” as Dr. Madara’s letter to FEMA says.

“Physicians and other health care workers in every state have expressed serious concerns regarding the availability of appropriate safety equipment. We are hearing that in many facilities treating COVID-19 patients are days away from running out of PPE. In others, there are reports of health care workers being forced to reuse single-use N95 respirators and surgical masks for days, if not weeks, due to extreme shortages. We see photos of physicians, nurses, and others treating patients in rain ponchos or plastic garbage bags in lieu of appropriate protective gowns,” Dr. Madara wrote.

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Why stronger federal leadership is needed to buy, distribute PPE

New research from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report outlines the stakes, finding that nearly 9,300 U.S. health professionals have been infected by the coronavirus, with 27 of them dying of COVID-19.

“We are asking everything of our nation’s exceptional health care workforce, and they have answered that call without hesitation despite the extremely high risks they are facing every day,” the AMA’s letter says. “We must ensure that they are protected and safe as we ask them to take on the tremendous challenge of fighting this deadly disease.”

Dr. Madara specifically highlighted the impact of PPE shortages on laboratory professionals and the nation’s COVID-19 testing capacity.

“Laboratory workers handling SARS-CoV-2 specimens and test kits are at significantly heightened risks for contracting COVID-19,” he wrote. “As the United States continues to struggle with providing widespread testing services, it is critical that we have a robust, healthy laboratory workforce to process these tests. A lack of appropriate PPE poses similar risks in a laboratory environment as it does in other health care facilities, and PPE will be especially important once point-of-care testing is widely available. Should we not have enough PPE to provide at facilities where point-of-care testing is available, it will severely hinder our ability to offer those services to patients.”

Read about the plea to the nation from doctors fighting COVID-19: #GetMePPE.

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COVID-19: Advocacy Progress Report

Learn more: Stay up to speed on the AMA’s COVID-19 advocacy efforts and track the fast-moving pandemic with the AMA's COVID-19 resource center, which offers a library of the most up-to-date resources from JAMA Network™, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization.