The Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg is home to scores of pallets of sanitizer and other safety and hygiene materials—materials stockpiled by the state last year in anticipation of the COVID-19 “fall surge.”
Yet at the same time the Wolf administration was stockpiling PPE, a Pennsylvania public interest group was reporting one in six of the state’s nursing homes were suffering extreme shortages. “Eight percent of nursing homes were completely out of one or more types of PPE in late August; 20 percent of facilities had less than a one-week supply of one or more types of PPE, which represents a critical shortage by industry standards,” according to the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group.
Gov. Wolf issued a press release in late September announcing that the state had created some stockpiles.
“There are still many unknowns with this virus, and we can’t control those, but we can control what we know and we know that by being ready with enough PPE, we can protect our health care workers, first responders and other essential workers and not overwhelm our health care system,” Wolf said at the time.
A week after Wolf’s announcement, a “Pittsburgh-based doctor, a local health system CEO and the leader of Pennsylvania’s long-term care facilities trade association told a Pennsylvania House committee that seven months into the Covid-19 pandemic, there are still shortages of personal protective equipment,” according to the Pittsburgh Business Times.
In early August, Dr. Andy Carter, CEO of the Hospital & Health System Association of Pennsylvania told the Pocono Record that hospitals were still struggling with acquiring PPE and called for the state to allocate more CARES dollars to hospitals.
The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency did not confirm the stockpile in a statement to Delaware Valley Journal, but they also did not deny it.
“While many parties have speculated about the location of commonwealth stockpiles of emergency supplies, the commonwealth is unable to confirm locations or quantities for security reasons.
The Wolf Administration used the summer months to prepare for a fall resurgence because we knew it was coming. We have significantly more PPE on hand to assist those who need it than we had prior to COVID-19. We continue to push PPE to those who need and request it and will work to ensure we keep our stockpile filled. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the commonwealth has provided millions of N95 and procedure masks, gloves, gowns, face shields and bottles of hand sanitizer to facilities that need it across the state.
It is expected that hospitals, health care facilities and other employers who require PPE are able to procure it, as they would purchase any supplies needed to conduct business. In the event that PPE such as masks, gowns, face shields, gloves or hand sanitizer is unable to be procured, a resource request would be submitted for review and if appropriate, PEMA would work with the Department of Health to deliver the requested supplies. The commonwealth stockpile is used in the event that other suppliers do not have the necessary items and all other potential sources have been exhausted.
Pennsylvanians need to continue social distancing, wearing masks, and doing all of the things that we know help to keep us safe – that’s the best way to protect yourself and your family, but it also protects our health care workers.”
Sources told Delaware Valley Journal that the supplies had been in the Farm Show complex since at least October. However, one picture of the materials obtained by DVJ shows a piece of paper attached to one pallet that reads, “Counted: Date 7-6-20.”
While Pennsylvania has chosen not to disclose their PPE stockpiles, other states have proudly displayed theirs.
In September, for example, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear gave other government officials and journalists a tour of a warehouse in Frankfort to show off the state’s readiness.
Gov. Wolf’s spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger defended the state’s strategy. “In the event that PPE such as masks, gowns, face shields, gloves or hand sanitizer is unable to be procured by hospitals, health care facilities, and other employers, the state’s stockpile is available to fill resource requests and deliver supplies. Since March, the commonwealth has fulfilled every legitimate needs’ request submitted,” she told Delaware Valley Journal.
“The Wolf Administration used the summer months to prepare for a fall resurgence. We continue to push PPE to those who need and request it and will work to ensure we keep our stockpile filled so we continue to meet all of the needs requests submitted. To date, the commonwealth has provided 4,859 shipments to those in need of PPE across the state as follows: Face Shields: 1,480,000; N95/KN95 masks: 5,870,000; Procedure Masks: 3,180,000; Gowns: 998,000; Gloves: 11,470,000.”