How can we protect patients if we don’t protect health care workers?

Health professionals still don't have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep themselves safe while they save lives. That's why we're calling for central, transparent coordination of the medical supply chain during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Matt Wellington

Former Director, Public Health Campaigns, PIRG

We’re four months into the COVID-19 pandemic, yet health professionals in many parts of the country still don’t have the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to keep themselves safe while they save lives. As COVID-19 hospitalizations surge in several states, the fragile supply chain for masks, gloves, gowns, and other medical supplies is strained. And as many states continue to reopen, some even as case numbers rise, non-healthcare businesses that need PPE will increase demand even further.

Early in the pandemic, an insatiable demand for PPE far outstripped a limited supply. Many stakeholders agree that the supply has increased since then, but serious issues remain, including a lack of central, transparent coordination for how those materials are distributed.

As the pandemic grinds on and even worsens in some places, the Trump Administration is dismantling its ad hoc COVID-19 response efforts. States are still being forced to compete against each other and the federal government for critical medical supplies. The lengths to which state and local officials have had to go to procure supplies are well-documented, and read like something out of a dystopian novel. Unfortunately, though, it’s our reality.

The good news is that we can fix this. At the same time that health professionals have been calling for more supplies, logistics experts have been citing the need for central coordination of the supply chain. U.S. PIRG has mobilized local elected officials and leading medical experts around that call for central coordination. We’ve given physicians a megaphone to have their voices heard, and brought together stakeholders to share ideas and challenges for moving forward. 

Previous efforts by the Trump Administration to source and distribute PPE have fallen short, and focused on getting supplies to private companies rather than impacted areas. To ensure that health professionals and other frontline workers get what they need to stay safe, the federal government needs to create a centralized system that gets medical supplies directly to impacted areas in a timely and transparent way. 

The Medical Supply Transparency and Delivery Act would accomplish that. The legislation, introduced by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (WI) and Chris Murphy (CT), would: 

  • Create a central coordinator position to oversee federal purchasing and distribution of medical supplies. This person would have the full authority to utilize the Defense Production Act in order to compel companies to produce necessary medical equipment.

  • Establish transparency and accountability in handling of the medical supply chain including: 

  • Public weekly reports of current stockpiles of supplies and projected needs. 

  • Publicly posting states’ requests for medical equipment and locations where supplies are distributed. 

These measures are critical for producing more personal protective equipment, and allocating those materials in a transparent way. Therefore, a coalition of more than 50 health and medical groups is petitioning U.S. senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to include the legislation in the next coronavirus stimulus package, as the House recently did.

Senator Baldwin also introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 that would accomplish the same goals.

We’re nowhere near out of the woods yet on COVID-19. But we can fix the mistakes that put health workers and the public at greater risk. Tell your senator to support the Medical Supply Transparency and Delivery Act.


Matt Wellington

Former Director, Public Health Campaigns, PIRG