BOSTON — The governor's frustration on the state's inability to get medical equipment in the middle of the novel coronavirus pandemic spilled over at the end of a 40-minute long news conference on Thursday.
The state has found itself bidding against other states as well as the federal government in trying to find materials, particularly personal protective equipment desperately needed by medical facilities and first-responders.
"The biggest thing I would say is that we are doing everything we can, through an incredibly messy thicket that is enormously frustrating for all of us to try to get them the gear that they deserve and they need," Gov. Charlie Baker said at a press conference live-streamed from Boston. "There are a lot of very compassionate and very brave people here in the commonwealth, who are doing what they can to serve people recognizing and understanding that in this particular area, the entire country is struggling to deliver."
Baker last week called out the president on the federal government outbidding states and blocking access to suppliers. The president has refused so far to use the Defense Production Act, preferring to let private companies work out production needs with the states and other organizations.
"This issue about landing the order is a very significant challenge for every single state, and on every call with the vice president, the president, the coronavirus team in Washington our big message to them is, you got to let us land the order," the governor said. "FEMA has talked about creating a more coordinated approach to this. They talked about it today on the phone call that we had earlier with with the administration. I think this is going to be critical to our ability as a country, never mind as a commonwealth, to get access to the personal protective equipment that people need to actually do this job and do it well."
Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said the state has continued to work the supply chain to increase supplies of personal protective equipment such as N95 masks, gloves and covers.
"As of [Wednesday], we had prepared and shipped out 68 deliveries of PPE to sheriff departments, local fire, police and health-care entities across the commonwealth," she said. "To date between MEMA and DPH, we have sent more than 150 shipments of supplies over the last two weeks."
Deliveries include more than 10,000 swabs to 55 sampling sites on Wednesday, and distributions of more than 20,000 masks and 120,000 pairs of gloves since Sunday.
"But we know we've continued to need to move the supply chain in order for us to have sufficient supplies in the commonwealth," Sudders said. "And since the command center was stood up, we've placed more than $50 million in orders for PPE and are working with suppliers to expedite shipping to the commonwealth."
The state's received about 17 percent of the equipment and materials its requested from the Strategic National Stockpile and third delivery was expected.
Manufacturers are beginning to gear up for production now but it won't happen overnight, the governor said, while a great deal of time and effort is being used to chase down supplies. He's had confirmed orders for millions of pieces of gear "evaporate in front of us."
"I can't tell you how frustrating it is, you know, we now have other orders that are outstanding that are probably "quote unquote" confirmed," he said. "But we've literally got to the point where our basic position is ... until the thing shows up
here in the commonwealth of Massachusetts it doesn't exist. ...
"Our first responders, our health-care workers, everybody deserves to have that gear. And I'm telling you, we're killing ourselves trying to make it happen."
Other news out of the daily briefing included:
• That the administration has submitted a request through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the president to declare federal disaster assistance for the COVID-19 pandemic. The major disaster declaration would provide the state with federal assistance beyond the state's emergency declaration, such as provide more support and flexibility to communities, monies for public and individual assistance, and unemployment and crisis counseling.
• The Department of Public Health has lifted requirements for staffing levels for hospitals and medical centers recently established by law and the "determination of need" process to allow facilities to invest to expand bed and care capacity.
• Pharmacy technicians may remotely process patient prescriptions, pharmacisists can dispense medication for chronic conditions and pharmacists licensed in good standing in others may operate in Massachusetts.
• There are now 21 laboratories involved in coronavirus testing now that the joint partnership between the state and the Broad Institute was announced last week. Numbers of tests have jumped from 2,000 last week to 20,000 by Wednesday. The governor cautioned that more testing will reveal more positive cases and to continue isolation and sanitary regimens.
• In what may become a model, the Newton Pavilion, a state asset, will be used as a stepped down care facility for Boston's homeless. It will be operated by a consortium of providers including Boston Medical Center, Boston Healthcare and homeless organizations.
"The facility will be used as needed for a range of care needs and potentially treatment for homeless patients. This includes homeless patients who test positive for COVID-19, or awaiting test results. The facility will provide a safe isolated place for people to stay in recover if they don't require hospitalization," the govenor said.
• The DPH is working with the disability community and SEIU Local 1199 for alternatives if a personal care attendent was unable to provide care by partnering with 150 home health agencies to step in if needed. If a person's PCA is unable to come to them, they can call the 1-844-422-6277 hotline for help.
"In Massachusetts, there are just over 36,000 individuals who are MassHealth recipients who have significant disabilities and receive what is referred to as personal care attendant services at home," said Sudders. "In order for these individuals to stay home and not be at risk of placement into a nursing home, they have to have PCA services."
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North Adams Trying to Determine 'Worst Case' Budget Picture
By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city administration is looking at what kind of scenario North Adams can operate under without knowing how the state budget will play out.
Mayor Thomas Bernard told the City Council on Tuesday night that "worst case is a hard thing to project right now simply because with 44 percent of our budget coming from state sources, a worst case is something that we can't manage, so what we're trying to figure out is what the worst case is that we can reasonably operate under."
The mayor said, in response to Councilor Jason LaForest's questions about an "emaciated" budget, that they would be "slicing something that's already been cut pretty deeply." However, he is looking at how City Hall can streamline functions, such as in the finance offices by focusing on needs and not who is in which office.
The novel coronavirus is expected to devastate budgets across the state as revenues have dropped over the past two months both locally and at the state level. The Legislature is basically rewriting the fiscal 2021 spending plan and figures provided to communities early in the year are no longer in play. If a budget is not in place by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, the city could have to adopt a continuation or 1/12 budget.