A team of volunteers recruited by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to aid the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has bungled efforts to secure personal protective equipment (PPE) for the nation’s hospitals and their staff, according to reports Tuesday in The Washington Post and The New York Times.
The volunteer force ― part of a larger coronavirus response team established by Kushner ― has been tasked with vetting possible suppliers for PPE in the face of critical shortages of such equipment at medical facilities nationwide.
The volunteers ― most of whom are reportedly in their 20s, some fresh out of college ― are then meant to forward the best options to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
But according to the two reports — both of which cited a whistleblower complaint submitted last month to the House Oversight Committee, as well as government officials familiar with the volunteer group’s work — the volunteers have been largely ineffective in securing this life-saving equipment for the government.
One problem cited in the whistleblower complaint is the volunteers’ lack of experience. Though some have relevant expertise, most reportedly have little to no experience in health care or government procurement procedures.
One infectious disease physician told the Post that the “danger” with such inexperience is “there may be decisions being made that are not fully informed and that’s going to lead to downstream effects on the response.”
The whistleblower, a former volunteer, said in the complaint that while their former colleagues were “competent, hard-working and intelligent,” the team had “frankly ... little to show” for their work.
“Americans are facing a crisis of tragic proportions and there is an urgent need for an effective, efficient and bold response,” the whistleblower complaint said, according to the Post. “From my few weeks as a volunteer, I believe we are falling short. I am writing to alert my representatives of these challenges and to ask that they do everything possible to help front-line health-care workers and other Americans in need.”
“We represent a smaller procurement team than at most midsized companies despite the magnitude of the crisis,” the complaint added. “I believe America deserves a larger, better-funded response. The team generally works 12+ hour days, seven days per week, but frankly has little to show for it.”
According to the Times, the volunteer force was also told to prioritize leads from so-called “VIPs,” which included “political allies and associates of President Trump.”
Fox News host Brian Kilmeade, for instance, reportedly had his suggestion of a potential PPE supplier prioritized, as did Tana Goertz, a former “Apprentice” contestant and current campaign chair of Women for Trump.
One man with no apparent health care experience who tweeted at President Trump about ventilators received $69 million from the state of New York three days after posting the tweet, BuzzFeed News previously reported. Kushner’s volunteers had a role to play in the man receiving the money, the Times said. No ventilators were ever delivered.
On the other hand, potentially more promising leads were reportedly ignored by the volunteer team. Jeffrey Hendricks, a South Carolina doctor who said he could help source millions of masks from established suppliers, told the Times that he was repeatedly ignored by the volunteer force.
“When I offered them viable leads at viable prices from an approved vendor, they kept passing me down the line and made terrible deals instead,” Hendricks said.
The whistleblower complaint also said “minimal attempts at social distancing are taken” by the volunteer force. The volunteers additionally engaged in other questionable practices like using personal email accounts when communicating with potential suppliers, the whistleblower claimed.
In a statement to the Post, Kushner, who has no public health experience but was nonetheless tapped to be a member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, defended the work the volunteer team has done.
“The bottom line is that this program sourced tens of millions of masks and essential PPE in record time and Americans who needed ventilators received ventilators,” Kushner said. “These volunteers are true patriots.”
News of the volunteer group’s alleged failings follows months of PPE shortages across the U.S.
In an April survey conducted by the group GetUsPPE.org, almost 1,000 medical facilities surveyed across 47 states and Washington, D.C., said they had no supplies left of at least one form of PPE.
On Tuesday, Trump rejected any blame for the shortage of medical supplies throughout the country, telling ABC News anchor David Muir that: “I’ll be honest, I have a lot of things going on.”
The president went on to lambaste efforts to probe his dealings with Russia and his impeachment and built on past falsehoods that former President Barack Obama had left him with “empty cupboards.”
In fact, Trump spent the early weeks of the pandemic refuting claims from doctors across the nation that they didn’t have adequate protective gear, and even questioned the rate some hospitals were going through face masks to treat an influx of ill patients.
Nick Visser contributed to this report.
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