Dr. Andrew Artenstein, chief physician executive at Baystate Health - which runs four hospitals in the Springfield area - describes the lengths he and his staff had to go to to secure some much needed respirator masks recently, in a a letter to the New England Journal of Medcine posted yesterday.
Artenstein reports he and his staff found a distributor with a supply of K95 masks - similar to N95 masks - and surgical masks.
Three members of the supply-chain team and a fit tester were flown to a small airport near an industrial warehouse in the mid-Atlantic region. I arrived by car to make the final call on whether to execute the deal. Two semi-trailer trucks, cleverly marked as food-service vehicles, met us at the warehouse. When fully loaded, the trucks would take two distinct routes back to Massachusetts to minimize the chances that their contents would be detained or redirected.
Artenstein and his staffers opened one package, the masks seemed to be good and, hoping the rest of the shipment would be similarly fine, he was about to order a wire transfer to the distributor when two FBI agents walked in - and started questioning him:
No, this shipment was not headed for resale or the black market. The agents checked my credentials, and I tried to convince them that the shipment of PPE was bound for hospitals. 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.