COVID-19 UpdatesHCN News & Notes

Baystate Physician Writes About Tense Moments in Securing PPE

SPRINGFIELD — The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a striking note from Dr. Andrew Artenstein, chief physician executive and chief academic officer at Baystate Health, about the extreme measures being taken to secure personal protective equipment (PPE) — a story involving secret airport handoffs and questioning by the FBI.

“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,” Artenstein wrote. “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.”

He then told about securing a large shipment of three-ply face masks and N95 respirators, the latter from China. After agreeing to pay more than five times the amount it normally would pay for a similar shipment, Baystate send three members of the supply-chain team and a fit tester to a small airport near an industrial warehouse in the mid-Atlantic region. Artenstein arrived as well, to make the final call on whether to execute the deal. Two semi-trailer trucks, marked as food-service vehicles, met the team at the warehouse, and drivers were instructed to take two different routes back to Massachusetts to reduce the chance of being intercepted.

That didn’t stop two FBI agents from showing up as well. “The agents checked my credentials, and I tried to convince them that the shipment of PPE was bound for hospitals,” Artenstein wrote. “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.”

Artenstein’s entire note can be read by clicking here.

“When encountering the severe constraints that attend this pandemic, we must leave no stone unturned to give our healthcare teams and our patients a fighting chance,” he concluded. “This is the unfortunate reality we face in the time of COVID-19.”