Nursing homes receive loads of defective equipment from FEMA

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President and CEO Brendan Williams of the NH Health Care Association demonstrates how the protective gown does not have slots for hands at his office in Pembroke on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. Geoff Forester, Concord Monitor

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CONCORD, NH – Massive amounts of the personal protective equipment sent to nursing homes by the federal government have been unusable, according to the New Hampshire Health Care Association.

Some face masks with paper ear loops were too brittle and broke when stretched. Some shipments included cloth masks, which, according to the CDC, are not considered adequate protection in a clinical setting. A Manchester nursing home administrator even received 1,800 extra-small gloves on Thursday that were nearly useless for a full staff of adults, said Brendan Williams, the president of the New Hampshire Health Care Association.

Donald Trump announced in early April that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would distribute packages of personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves and gowns, to nursing homes across the country, which have been hit especially hard by COVID-19.

In New Hampshire, 80% of the total COVID-19 deaths have been residents of nursing homes, the highest percentage in the country and nearly double the national average.

Williams said most of the equipment from FEMA that arrived in Granite State nursing homes had a multitude of problems and most of it has gone unused.

He demonstrated the problems with the isolation gowns sent from FEMA, which arrived with no armholes. Even on him, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound man, the blue plastic gown was huge.

“It’s not an isolation gown; it’s a garbage bag,” he said. “It’s basically representative that they’re treating health care workers like garbage.”

Several states have reported similar problems with the equipment sent by FEMA, such as paper-thin masks and the isolation gowns without armholes.

Alexandria Bruner, a FEMA spokesperson, said the agency is working with its partners to address some long-term care facilities’ concerns, although they noted they have had official complaints from only 1 percent of the nursing homes that received equipment.

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A FEMA spokeswoman said the equipment might just be “different from what the nursing homes are used to using.” Photo/Geoff Forester, Concord Monitor

Furthermore, she said, the equipment might just be different from what the nursing homes are used to using. All of the equipment should meet the certification requirements of the Food and Drug Administration or the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation, she said.

“The fact that these nursing homes typically use other types of FDA or AAMI-certified PPE does not warrant this type of scrutiny from the media,” Bruner said.

Williams said the notion that health care providers are just being picky about what equipment they use is unacceptable. Clearly, he said, the materials sent by FEMA have been defective.

Several U.S. senators are pushing for answers from FEMA and the federal government on the faulty equipment, including Democrat Maggie Hassan.

Hassan and three other senators sent a letter to the administrator of FEMA asking him to clarify how the organization is controlling for the quality of the personal protective equipment.

Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire’s senior senator, has introduced legislation to help long-term care facilities respond to COVID-19, including a bill to require the Department of Homeland Security to increase the amount of PPE it procures from American companies.

“These facilities are caring for the most vulnerable to COVID-19, and it’s unacceptable that the federal government hasn’t done a better job of protecting these residents,” Shaheen said in a statement.

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About this Author

Teddy Rosenbluth

Teddy Rosenbluth covers health care and related issues for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire. Rosenbluth has covered science and healthcare for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and the Daily Bruin. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of L.A to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered First Place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and National Finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists’ Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a B.S. in psychobiology.