“We can work together to provide the things that we need to allow our healthcare system to have the capacity it needs to fight this fight,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said.
Pennsylvania on Sunday announced it will work with six other Northeastern states to form a regional purchasing partnership to obtain personal protection equipment (PPE), coronavirus tests, ventilators, and other medical equipment during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The bipartisan multi-state consortium, which also includes New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, aims to provide an affordable and reliable regional supply chain for desperately needed medical supplies and equipment that the federal government has failed to adequately provide.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, and Delaware Gov. John Carney announced the effort in a Sunday afternoon press conference hosted by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The states will coordinate policies over each state’s PPE inventory, aggregate each state’s individual demand, and then search for suppliers within the United States that can provide them with the supplies they need over the next three months, rather than purchasing massive shipments of items from abroad, as other states have done. Wolf said the collaboration would give the states more bargaining power with manufacturers and allow them to better address the dire shortage of supplies facing healthcare workers.
“We can work together to provide the things that we need to allow our healthcare system to have the capacity it needs to fight this fight. We need to help our hospitals, we need to help our healthcare workers, we need to help our long-term care facilities, our first responders, all those things,” Wolf said during the press conference on Sunday.
Gov. Carney of Delaware also pointed out that by joining forces with New York and New Jersey—the two hardest hit states in the nation, but also two of the wealthiest—the entire group stood to benefit when negotiating with suppliers.
“If we’re going head-to-head with New York, we’re not going to get [the medical equipment],” Carney said. “If we’re along shoulder-to-shoulder with [Gov. Cuomo] and with Gov. Murphy and Gov. Wolf, we’ve got a good chance of getting a better price and of getting the product that we need.”
The compact will not only reduce the cost of acquiring equipment and supplies, but will also allow for more efficient delivery and a more reliable flow of supplies, which will limit potential disruptions to PPE, medical equipment, and testing supply chains in the region, the governors said. The group will also explore manufacturing their own equipment, and Wolf emphasized the importance of dramatically scaling up testing capabilities, which he said are critical to lifting restrictions in Pennsylvania.
“We really need to work together to build the capacity to test or we’re not going to be able to give our citizens the confidence they need to go back to work, they’re not going to have the confidence we need them to have to go back to school or go back to the store or to go back to worship, so all of those things are really important,” Wolf said.
The purchasing partnership represents just the latest effort by states to step into the void left by a largely absent federal government. Instead of leading a nationwide effort to combat the pandemic as one would expect in a national emergency, the Trump administration has largely told states to fend for themselves when it comes to acquiring medical supplies, equipment, and tests. Trump himself has even referred to the federal government as “backup,” and accused states of exaggerating their needs.
Pennsylvania, like other states, has struggled to obtain PPE, medical equipment, and coronavirus tests for the duration of the pandemic, and a congressional report released in April showed that Pennsylvania received only a fraction of the personal protective equipment it requested from the federal government’s stockpile.
“There’s no leadership at the top. States are having to outbid each other for supplies because the federal government has refused to take a role, or is taking a role too little or too late,” said the doctor, who didn’t want to be identified because he’d previously been reprimanded by his hospital for speaking out about the need for more PPE.
In the absence of federal leadership, Gov. Wolf in March announced he would spend $50 million in state money to purchase medical equipment and supplies. In April, he also signed an order authorizing the state to “commandeer” personal protective equipment and ventilators from healthcare providers and transfer the supplies to other facilities in need as Pennsylvania struggled with a surge in cases.
Wolf’s leadership has been largely praised in the state, and a recent poll from Public Policy Polling (PPP) found that 62% of Pennsylvanians approve of Wolf’s response to the coronavirus. In contrast, only 46% said they agreed how President Trump is handling the pandemic.
While Trump has largely eschewed attempts at unity, Wolf has repeatedly emphasized the value of collaboration.
“By working together we can combine our strengths to build the capacities we all need. We can exploit our market size to encourage producers to make what we need, we can exploit our financial strength to give that encouragement added weight, and we can exploit the great research institutions and the brainpower in our region to increase our chances of success,” Wolf said in a statement on Sunday. “I look forward to working with my fellow governors—and my neighbors—to build a strong regional supply chain.”
The joint effort comes just three weeks after the same seven states formed a council to develop a regional plan for reopening their economies after the worst of the pandemic has passed.
Wolf announced on Friday that 24 counties in rural northern Pennsylvania, which have largely been spared from the coronavirus, would begin to see some restrictions lifted and some businesses reopen beginning on May 8, impacting about 1.5 million residents. The rest of the state, however, remains under tighter orders.
Statewide, 50,092 Pennsylvanians have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 2,458 people have died, according to the state department of health.