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Federal officials have sent 100 of the 1,700 ventilators Mass. requested. That’s ‘absurd,’ lawmakers say

April 6, 2020
In The News

Warning that Massachusetts hospitals could run out of ventilators in a matter of days, members of the state’s federal delegation are pressing officials to fill the state’s request for the highly sought-after medical devices to steel itself against an expected surge of COVID-19 patients.

Governor Charlie Baker said Sunday the state had received a shipment of 100 ventilators from the Strategic National Stockpile, despite initially requesting 1,400 and being approved to receive 1,000. Baker said last week that he expected the state would receive its order by the end of the first week of April, but on Sunday, he said he now expects to get the additional ventilators "over the next two weeks.”

That’s frustrating members of the state’s federal delegation, which on Monday sent a letter to Peter T. Gaynor, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, warning that hospitals could soon become inundated with cases of the novel coronavirus.

In the letter, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey and the nine-member House delegation said their “understanding” is that Massachusetts officials have since increased their request to 1,700 ventilators as they prepare for a long-feared surge in cases between Friday and April 20.

The new request was made in internal discussions between FEMA and Massachusetts officials, according to a Democratic staffer.

“Given the growing need in Massachusetts, approving and sending only 100 ventilators to Massachusetts is absurd, and FEMA can and must do more to help Massachusetts during this crisis,” the lawmakers wrote in a copy of the letter shared with the Globe Monday morning.

The lawmakers said the Strategic National Stockpile currently has 9,000 ventilators, some of which have started to go out to at least five other states.

Massachusetts hospitals already have been scrambling to find the mechanical devices, which provide life-saving breaths to patients with acute respiratory failure, a serious symptom of COVID-19. The exact number of fully equipped mechanical ventilators in the state is unclear, but one study suggests there are at least 1,400 total.

“We have heard from hospitals in the state that they will run out of invasive ventilators in a matter of days and will run out of other ventilators that can be adapted for use for COVID-19 patients within a week,” lawmakers wrote in their letter.

Vice President Mike Pence had confirmed Saturday that 100 ventilators had been sent to Massachusetts.

“I spoke to Governor Charlie Baker today," Pence said, “and was able to inform him we’re watching the Boston area very closely.”

Monday wasn’t the first time federal lawmakers have pressed FEMA for answers. Warren sent a letter last week questioning why federal officials had seized several of Massachusetts’s recent orders for personal protective equipment.

That included a shipment of three million N95 masks the state had negotiated to buy from BJ’s Wholesale Club, only to have federal officials impound them, and two separate orders for ventilators and hundreds of other respirators the federal government claimed.

The state Department of Public Health on Sunday reported 764 new cases, bringing the confirmed total in Massachusetts to 12,500. There also were 15 newly reported deaths related to the virus, bringing the state’s death toll to 231.

In Boston, there have been 1,877 confirmed cases and 15 deaths.

The state has been making other preparations in girding for an influx of cases. The massive Boston Convention and Exhibition Center is being converted into a field hospital, with an expected 500 beds for the city’s homeless and 500 for overflow patients coming from the city’s hospitals.

The DCU Center, a Worcester arena, is being converted to a 250-bed field hospital, and a similar facility was in progress at Joint Base Cape Cod in Bourne, officials have said.