When the pandemic began almost two years ago and COVID cases suddenly started rising, everybody was scrambling for masks, gloves, gowns, ventilators and other life-saving equipment.

A New Jersey congressman is trying to make sure that never happens again.

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, N.J. 5th District, has introduced the Medical and Health Stockpile Accountability Act to try and ensure the Garden State and the entire country is better prepared for future crises and pandemics.

PPE confusion

He said at the beginning of the COVID crisis, hospitals were flooded with coronavirus patients and “our excellent front-line workers, our health care workers were stuck wearing bandanas, or using garbage bags as gowns in hospitals. We just didn’t have the supplies.”

Blue and white vector realistic facial protective masks, medical equipment
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Gottheimer said months later, “it turns out we actually had PPE and ventilators in Kansas and Arkansas at the time when we got hit first and we had nothing.”

He said his legislation is about “making sure that the Strategic National Stockpile has what it needs, that we keep a close eye on it so we have an automated supply chain tracking system.”

He said this would ensure we have “a near real-time insight onto what’s going on what’s where, where are the prescription drugs that we need, where are the ventilators that we need, how many do we have in the stockpile that we have, are they working.”

What we need

The Act would establish an automated supply-chain tracking application within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide almost instant insight into the amount of critical medical and health supplies available in the Strategic National Stockpile and in the medical and health inventories of local and private entities like hospitals, manufacturers, and distributors around the country.

It would also establish clear guidelines and practices for data access and use of the new supply-chain tracking applications, eliminate manual reporting burden and errors by automating data feeds from health care entities to a centralized system, and assist state, local, and private health care entities, such as community hospitals, that do not have an automated vendor management system to keep track of what is available where.

Preparation is key

Gottheimer said we need to learn from this pandemic so we don’t find ourselves in a similar kind of crisis at some point in the future. He said upgrading the system would be helpful.

Efforts are also underway in Congress to pass bills that expand the distribution of high-quality masks, gowns and other PPE in the United States, to lessen our dependence on other countries, especially China, in securing these essential items.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, N.J. 12th District, is co-sponsoring the Masks for All Act, which calls for the government to hand out a package of three N95 masks to everyone in the United States.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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