Public Health

Why stronger federal leadership is needed to buy, distribute PPE

Kevin B. O'Reilly , Senior News Editor

What’s the news: The AMA is calling on President Trump for stronger federal leadership to address the dire shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Physicians and hospitals report that they are only days away from exhausting their supplies of the PPE that is vital to keeping doctors at their lifesaving posts and stopping the further spread of COVID-19.

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“We continue to hear that lack of federal coordination of acquisition and distribution of PPE has created a situation where this equipment finds its way not to the areas where it is needed most, but to the highest bidder,” AMA Executive Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, MD, wrote in a letter to President Donald Trump. “In some cases, that bidder is the federal government, which wields bargaining power that states simply cannot match. This system of procurement not only leaves critical shortage areas without adequate supply, but has resulted in significant increases over normal prices and growth in the gray market as desperate buyers will do anything they can to ensure supply for their front-line workers.

“We simply cannot stand by while our physicians, nurses, and other health care workers continually risk their own health and well-being to treat COVID-19 patients because their state or facility was outbid for critical protective equipment,” Dr. Madara added. “We cannot ask overburdened state and local health departments and health care facilities to take on additional burdens of sourcing and bidding on basic PPE.”

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What’s needed right now, Dr. Madara wrote, is “strong federal leadership to ensure our dedicated health care workforce can be kept safe and can keep working to fight the spread of COVID-19.”

The AMA is urging the Trump administration to “take a stronger role to coordinate a national effort of acquisition and distribution of PPE, ensuring that critical PPE no longer goes to the highest bidder and areas in urgent need can protect essential health care workers.”

The administration also should “do everything in its power to ensure that facilities capable of manufacturing PPE are doing so at the maximum possible capacity.”

Learn more about the plea to the nation from doctors fighting COVID-19: #GetUsPPE.

Why it’s important: “We are asking everything of our nation’s exceptional health care workforce, which has answered that call without hesitation,” Dr. Madara wrote. “In return, we must ensure them adequate protection as they treat our most critical patients and we must ensure our nation stops the spread of this infectious disease threat by staying home for as long as we need. We owe it to our physicians and dedicated health care workers to give them every available chance to stem the tide of this horrible disease.”

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The AMA also lauded the president’s decision to heed the advice of his scientific experts to keep national physical distancing guidelines in place through April 30. Given the lack of a vaccine and widely available point-of-care testing, Dr. Madara wrote, those guidelines should be kept in place “for so long as needed to flatten the curve.” Prematurely relaxing the guidelines would prolong the “devastating impacts of this pandemic” on the nation’s health system and economy.

“Now is the time to give our physicians and health care workforce a fighting chance at stopping the spread, which we can do only by ensuring America stays at home,” says the AMA’s letter.

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.