Amid reports the federal government is diverting privately-purchased shipments of face masks intended for local hospital workers and first responders, one local medical supplies distributor is lining up lawyers to have his shipments released from an airport in New York.
“It’s a disgrace,” said medical supplies distributor George Gianforcaro. “I’m paying nearly $5,000 a day in storage fees for all of those masks, and I’m not even entirely certain why they’re holding it,” he said.
Indutex USA CEO Gianforcaro says the FDA, which has the right to inspect all overseas shipments, is holding up approvals of surgical masks and respirators he purchased in late March and early April.
The shipments have been sitting in storage for about 10 days at New York’s JFK Airport.
Gianforcaro says he has 30 orders for $2.5 million worth of N95 respirators that have been promised to hospitals, police departments and long-term care facilities that he is unable to distribute.
Gianforcaro and Sen. Chris Coons announced on March 30th that the Newark-based Indutex USA would be receiving 1,000,000 N95 respirators in early April and many would be earmarked for frontline healthcare workers and emergency response personnel in Delaware based on asks from multiple health care concerns in the state.
Gianforcaro was able to distribute 10 million earloop face masks in late March to states including Texas, Louisiana, Nevada, Missouri and California based on his first shipment into Delaware.
But the medical supplies distributor asserts the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has coordinated with the FDA to hold up approvals all of his N95 shipments.
“The first hundred thousand were coming in, that first week in April. And that’s the first hundred thousand they seized. Then the following week I had a shipment of 300,000, and they seized those. Then five days later they seized another hundred thousand,” he said.
In all, Gianforcaro has three shipments totaling 500,o0o masks sitting in customs. He says customs has given their approval
“So I called the factory at the end of last week and I said, ‘Don’t send any more product.’ Because why would I want to have any more product coming in? When JFK holds shipments, they charge you per day based on how many pallets you have, and I’ve got two tractor-trailer loads sitting at JFK Airport. To me this is ridiculous,” he said.
Gianforcaro says he has provided the names of his 30 customers to FEMA. Some of his customers include the New Castle County Police Department (3,000 masks), a Delaware hospital (30,000 masks), and seven Delaware nursing homes. Indutex USA also has orders for EMTs in Sante Fe, New Mexico as well as orders for the state of Michigan.
“The vast majority were going to stay in the Delaware and Pennsylvania region,” said Gianforcaro.
According to Gianforcaro, the hold-up is attributable to the fact that FEMA allegedly ran tests on the masks imported by Indutex USA and at least one test supposedly failed.
Gianforcaro then arranged to return all of the masks to the supplier, who he says agreed to accept the return and issue a full refund plus 5 percent. When Gianforcaro spoke to a FEMA representative to say that the masks would be returned to China, “They said, that’s okay we still want them.”
Gianforcaro said that he replied that ethically he could not sell potentially faulty masks to FEMA. “I can’t sell you a safety product that failed a test. I have to research what test it [the masks] failed and why. But they [FEMA] still said, ‘All right. Well, we’re still interested in them. Don’t send them back.'”
That was Saturday, April 25th, and Gianforcaro says he still has not heard back from FEMA. That’s why Gianforcaro met with attorneys for two hours today. Meetings will continue tomorrow.
“It’s ludicrous that the federal government would seize my product. It’s also ludicrous that Maryland would deploy the National Guard to protect test kits coming into the state. Think about how low we’ve sunk when it comes to this,” he said.
We reached out to FEMA for a response and we will update this article when we hear back. On their website, under a section called, “Rumor: Is FEMA Seizing Medical Supplies,” their language states, “FEMA is not seizing or taking personal protective equipment (PPE) from state or local governments, hospitals, or anyone lawfully engaged in acquiring or distributing PPE.”
The FEMA website also says that if a hospital believes this has happened to them (seizures of medical supplies), it should be reported to the governor. The site does not provide precise language for distributors of medical supplies.
Meanwhile, the governors of several northeastern states on Sunday announced that they will partner up to buy $5 billion worth of medical supplies and equipment rather than compete with each other.
Delaware Governor John Carney joined the governors of six other states, including Pennsylvania, to develop a regional supply chain for PPE, other medical equipment and testing.
Their goal is to decrease the potential for disruptions in the supply chain for PPE and medical equipment and to better prepare for a second wave of COVID-19.
New York Governor Cuomo says the new partnership will make the states more competitive in the international marketplace and “help us actually get the equipment at a better price.”
The new consortium will also coordinate policies surrounding PPE supplies for first responders and for non-profit agencies and businesses in the private sector.
“We need a consistent approach for moving our states out of this crisis, and that includes ensuring a sufficient supply of PPE and tests,” said Governor Carney.