Apr 25, 2020 - Health

Veterans Affairs acknowledges personal protective equipment shortage

The Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New York City. Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Image

The executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration acknowledged in an interview with the Washington Post that the system faces a shortage of masks and personal protective equipment after VA officials initially denied the insufficiencies.

Why it matters: "The shortages, and the agency’s claims that they did not exist, have been a low point in what observers say is an otherwise commendable response by VA to the pandemic," the Post writes.

The state of play: Stone claimed the Federal Emergency Management Agency told vendors with orders from the VA to send that equipment to FEMA so the federal government's dwindling emergency stockpile could be refilled.

“The supply system was responding to FEMA. I couldn’t tell you when my next delivery was coming in," Richard Stone, the VA's health chief, told the Post.

  • Meanwhile, the VA’s 4-week supply of equipment — in 170 medical centers — was depleted, as the system used approximately 200,000 masks in a day, Stone said.
  • After VA Secretary Robert Wilkie appealed to FEMA officials this past week, FEMA said it provided the VA with 500,000 masks, but made no mention of diverting equipment to the national stockpile, the Post notes.
  • Stone said a similar shipment arrived last week, allowing him to ease policies so VA employees working directly with coronavirus patients could get one face mask a day.
  • He also noted the system was newly able to test staff for COVID-19 in recent weeks.

The impact: VA employees have organized protests, saying they were unsafe.

  • Meanwhile, the Labor Department is reportedly investigating a union complaint that employees at one VA hospital were ordered to continue working after they believed they contracted COVID-19.
  • On Thursday, Senate Democrats on the Trump administration, in a letter to Vice President Pence, to get supplies to VA hospitals, per the Post.

Models indicated the coronavirus could put as many as 200,000 of the 9 million veterans in VA’s system in the hospital.

  • So far, the numbers have fallen short of those estimates, the Post writes.
  • The system is now reaching out to help veterans in state facilities.

Go deeper: Fixing America's broken coronavirus supply chain

Go deeper

Where the CDC went wrong with its coronavirus response

Photo: Tami Chappell/AFP/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mishandled the coronavirus pandemic, sowing mistrust among health experts and the public, according to a sweeping report by the New York Times.

Why it matters: It's been reported that a faster and more organized response from the federal government could have saved thousands of lives.

Updated 16 hours ago - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

The Department of Health and Human Services moved on Thursday to require that an individual's race, ethnicity, age and sex be submitted to the agency with novel coronavirus test results.

Why it matters: Some cities and states have reported the virus is killing black people at disproportionately high rates. There are gaps in the national picture of how many people of color are affected, since the data has not been a requirement for states to collect or disclose.

Unpacking a surprise jobs report

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Can we trust this morning's surprisingly good employment report?

  • The short answer: Yes.