The FBI is literally trying to steal shit from desperate doctors who are sourcing PPE however they can. Because of course that's what happens when a malignant narcissist hands off the nation's pandemic response to a Godbothering sycophant who criminalized disease, triggering a massive HIV outbreak when he was governor of Indiana.

Dr. Andrew W. Artenstein, chief physician executive at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, wrote about his struggle against his own government to secure N95 masks for his staff in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.

"As a chief physician executive," he said, "I rarely get involved in my health system's supply-chain activities." But with the government failing to invoke the Defense Production Act to stabilize the supply chain, even going so far as to drive up the price by bidding against the states, Dr. Artenstein has added chief procurement officer to his duties because "we continue to be stymied by a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), and the cavalry does not appear to be coming."


Our supply-chain group has worked around the clock to secure gowns, gloves, face masks, goggles, face shields, and N95 respirators. These employees have adapted to a new normal, exploring every lead, no matter how unusual. Deals, some bizarre and convoluted, and many involving large sums of money, have dissolved at the last minute when we were outbid or outmuscled, sometimes by the federal government. Then we got lucky, but getting the supplies was not easy.

Dr. Artenstein was deliberately fuzzy on the details of the deal in question, set up by "an acquaintance of a friend of a team member," but he finally did secure a shipment of the respirator masks from China, albeit at more than 500 percent of the pre-pandemic price. Even when the order was reduced by three quarters, he was thrilled to get it, since medical personnel are risking their lives day in and day out to contain COVID-19 without adequate protective gear.

But the doctor knew that he still ran the risk of having his precious cargo confiscated by the feds, who impounded a shipment of PPE en route to Massachusetts at Port Authority earlier this month, prompting the governor of that state to turn to the Patriots football team for supply runs, on the assumption that Trump would never disrespect his pal Robert Kraft by forcefully boarding his planes and busses.

So the hospital devised a plan to sneak its medical supplies in under the nose of the federal government. Which is a sentence we did not expect to be typing in the goddamn US of A.

Three members of the supply-chain team and a fit tester were flown to a small airport near an industrial warehouse in the mid-Atlantic region. I arrived by car to make the final call on whether to execute the deal. Two semi-trailer trucks, cleverly marked as food-service vehicles, met us at the warehouse. When fully loaded, the trucks would take two distinct routes back to Massachusetts to minimize the chances that their contents would be detained or redirected.

And yet, when he got there, he was met by FBI agents who demanded proof that he wasn't buying up the mask for resale on the black market. Even when he showed credentials proving that he was an IRL doctor heading up a major regional hospital chain, Artenstein wasn't out of the woods, because the feds were still considering grabbing his supplies for the strategic national stockpile. Only quick intercession by his congressman — presumably Richard Neal — saved the day.

After receiving my assurances and hearing about our health system's urgent needs, the agents let the boxes of equipment be released and loaded into the trucks. But I was soon shocked to learn that the Department of Homeland Security was still considering redirecting our PPE. Only some quick calls leading to intervention by our congressional representative prevented its seizure. I remained nervous and worried on the long drive back, feelings that did not abate until midnight, when I received the call that the PPE shipment was secured at our warehouse.

Baystate got its shipment of N95s, which it is now keeping safe under armed guard.

But as we are subjected to day after day of Donald Trump screaming inanities at "coronavirus briefings," let's not forget who made this happen. Because China didn't do this; the WHO didn't do this; Nancy Pelosi didn't do this; Congress didn't do this; the "lying media" didn't do this.

This is all on Trump, who refused to take basic responsibility for the supply chain to ensure adequate tests, ventilators, and PPE. As a direct result, middlemen pocketed millions of dollars in excess fees as prices skyrocketed, a thriving black market bloomed overnight, and we're facing widespread shortages. Dr. Artenstein should be saving lives, not driving all over the East Coast in a cloak-and-dagger effort to smuggle in medical supplies to stop his staff contracting deadly disease.

No amount of supercut ads with Biden shaking hands with Xi Jinping will change that. Stay mad!

[NEJM]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.

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