….“So much that was predicted has come to pass,” said Marcia Crosse, former head of the healthcare section of the Government Accountability Office. Since the early 2000s, the GAO, the federal government’s leading internal watchdog, has issued a steady stream of reports about poor pandemic planning.
That is only the most recent warning. As early as 2003, the GAO cautioned that many urban hospitals lacked enough ventilators to treat a large number of patients suffering from respiratory problems that would be expected in an anthrax or botulism outbreak.
“Ventilators have long been recognized as a weak link,” said Crosse, who spent 35 years at GAO before retiring in 2018.
Federal policymakers concentrated heavily on pandemic preparedness in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and anthrax scare in 2001, which both exposed gaps in the nation’s emergency response system.
In 2005, the administration of President George W. Bush published a landmark “National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.” The document, among other things, highlighted the need for plans to distribute necessary medical supplies from the nation’s Strategic National Stockpile and to support state and local efforts to “surge” medical personnel and facilities to handle an outbreak.
Medical equipment such as masks and protective clothing in particular were given high priority as planners recognized that doctors, nurses and other medical staff were most vulnerable.
After the swine flu epidemic in 2009, a safety-equipment industry association and a federally sponsored task force both recommended that depleted supplies of N95 respirator masks, which filter out airborne particles, be replenished by the stockpile, which is maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
That didn’t happen, according to Charles Johnson, president of the International Safety Equipment Assn.
The stockpile drew down about 100 million masks during the 2009 epidemic, Johnson said…..