Watchdog: 'Severe' shortages as US hospitals face virus

Inspector general finds 'widespread' shortages of medical protective equipment that have 'put staff and patients at risk'

Watchdog: 'Severe' shortages as US hospitals face virus

Hospitals in the U.S. lack key medical equipment including testing kits and protective gear for health workers on the front lines of the fight against the novel coronavirus, according to a recently released watchdog report.

The inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services report paints a dire picture of the U.S. healthcare system at a critical phase in what U.S. President Donald Trump has called a war against an "invisible enemy."

It determined from interviews done on March 23-27 that hospitals are facing "severe" shortages of testing supplies, and drawn-out wait times to receive the results are hindering the ability of doctors and nurses to effectively monitor patients and staff.

The hospital administrator interviews included responses from 323 hospitals across 46 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, and further found "widespread" shortages of what is known as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for medical workers that have "put staff and patients at risk."

"Hospitals reported that heavier use of PPE than normal was contributing to the shortage and that the lack of a robust supply chain was delaying or preventing them from restocking PPE needed to protect staff," it said, adding that hospitals lack confidence that state and federal governments will be able to make up the shortfalls as prices for the life-saving gear skyrocket.

The shortages have led to heightened anxiety among hospital staff caused by fear of being infected.

"As one administrator put it, 'The level of anxiety among staff is like nothing I’ve ever seen'," said the report.

The report notes, however, that given the rapidly evolving outbreak in the U.S., as well as the governmental response, the status of the situation may have changed – for better or worse – since the interviews were taken.

"Since our interviews, some hospital challenges may have worsened and others may have improved," it said.

The U.S. has the most confirmed COVID-19 cases of any country worldwide, with a tally from Johns Hopkins University standing at 337,971 infections. That includes 9,654 people who have died and 17,582 who recovered.

The coronavirus has spread to 183 countries or regions since it first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan last December.