California counties scrambling to find ventilators as governor sends 500 to other states fighting coronavirus

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SACRAMENTO (Los Angeles Times) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to lend 500 state-owned ventilators to New York and other coronavirus hot spots outside the state caught some local California officials off guard, particularly in Riverside County where health officials have been scrambling to acquire the critically needed medical equipment.

Riverside County officials said the state recently denied their request for an additional 500 ventilators, even though the county expects demand for the breathing machines at county hospitals and medical centers to exceed the supply in less than three weeks.
Santa Clara County, another area hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, is offering a $1,000 bounty for each device it receives and has ordered companies with the devices to report their inventory to the county.
“I understand and respect what the governor is doing. But are we going to be able to get the assistance that we’re going to need in a week or two weeks out?” Riverside County Supervisor Kevin Jeffries said Wednesday. “I think we were all a little surprised. We’re all trying to prepare so we’re not like New York.”
Newsom on Monday said the state was able to lend the 500 ventilators to other states because California currently had an excess supply of the devices and those areas were in desperate need.
Hospitals throughout California have procured thousands of ventilators in the last few weeks, increasing their total inventory from 7,587 to 11,036. Another 1,000 refurbished ventilators are expected to become available in coming days and weeks, the governor said.
Newsom said the state’s ventilators will be returned if and when California needs them. The governor said California expects to see a surge of coronavirus patients in May.
“These are lent. They are not given,” Newsom said Monday.
Jeffries also said Riverside County had an agreement to purchase 300 new ventilators from a medical supply company for $12 million, but the deal has since been canceled. He said he was told that the Federal Emergency Management Agency instead acquired those ventilators to add to the Strategic National Stockpile.
“As far as we know, we’re dead in the water,” Jeffries said.
FEMA officials were not available for comment Wednesday evening.
Brian Ferguson, spokesman for the governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said the state has been inundated with requests for respirators and personal protective gear from counties around the state, and is assisting areas with the most pressing needs first.
“The goal is to ultimately fill everyone’s needs. Those with the more immediate need will be prioritized,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said the state wants to avoid sending ventilators to areas where they may sit unused for weeks when other cities and counties may need them right away.
While Riverside County expects to need ventilators when an expected surge of coronavirus patients hits in late April, 305 of the 512 ventilators currently in the county were not in use as of Wednesday morning, according to county spokeswoman Brooke Federico.
County health officials estimate that all ventilators will be in use by April 26.
Federico said the county had initially requested 500 ventilators from the state, which was denied. The county later submitted a separate request for 1,000 ventilators that is pending.
Testifying before the county board of supervisors on Tuesday, Riverside County Emergency Management Department Director Bruce Barton said the state did not explain why it denied the county’s first request for ventilators.
“I just want people to know that we have been working on it,” Supervisor Karen Spiegel said at the meeting. “It’s beyond our control.”
Riverside joins counties across the state also scrambling to acquire ventilators and protective gear for healthcare workers.
Santa Clara County issued an order Wednesday asking individuals and businesses to report large inventories of personal protective equipment and ventilators in anticipation of a forthcoming shortage as Covid-19 cases continue to rise.
The county has a sufficient supply of equipment, but officials are preparing for an imminent need for more supplies beyond what state and federal government may be able to provide in the future. The order comes one day after the county confirmed 1,380 Covid-19 cases and 46 deaths.
“The intent is to ensure we have comprehensive collective information about what PPE exists across the community,” public health department director Dr. Sara Cody said.
Officials anticipate that most people would not need to report any equipment. The personal information of those who do will remain confidential, county counsel James Williams said.
Individuals and businesses that have more than a minimum supply of equipment are expected to report to the county by April 15. That includes anyone with more than 5,000 nitrile or vinyl gloves; more than 500 N95 masks; more than 500 surgical or procedure masks; more than 100 safety goggles and face shields; more than a gallon of hand sanitizer; and any ventilators.
“The order is about protecting the people who protect us,” Williams said. “We’re sheltering at home. These people are out there on the front lines protecting people who are infected. We need to protect the protectors.”
Newsom said Tuesday that California has secured a monthly supply of 200 million N95 respiratory and surgical masks to help protect healthcare workers. Delivery of the masks should begin in approximately a month, said spokesman Nathan Click.
The new effort will cost the state $495 million, according to a budget document that the Newsom administration submitted to the Legislature. In all, according to the document, the state has committed to purchasing medical safety gear that will cost $1.4 billion.
Mark Ghilarducci, director of the governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said on Wednesday that supplying personal protective equipment to Santa Clara and Riverside counties — along with Los Angeles, Orange, San Joaquin, San Francisco, Alameda, Sacramento and San Mateo counties — is considered the state’s top priority.
“It’s not just random,” he said. “This is a closely coordinated with where we’re seeing the greatest number of cases that we have to manage and that doesn’t mean that the rest of our counties in the state are not going to get [personal protective equipment].”

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