WASHINGTON – Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., pleaded with Congress and President Donald Trump to do everything in their power to acquire the medical supplies and equipment health professionals and first responders say they need to treat American patients with the coronavirus in a heartfelt speech Monday on the Senate floor.
Bennet brought the frustrations and fears of health care workers across Colorado to the nation’s capital, as senators failed to move forward with a $2 trillion coronavirus bill that would ease the financial impact of the outbreak.
“And our medical professionals in Colorado, as in the Commonwealth of Virginia, all across this country, have been begging for us to pay attention to this for months,” Bennet said during his speech.
The chief medical officer at Denver Health, one of the leading hospitals in the country, said they do not have enough tests or swabs to keep pace. And the turnaround time for tests is taking much too long, Bennet said. The medical staff are “burning through” protective equipment and will soon be forced to put two patients on a single ventilator, Bennet said.
“We are failing, Mr. President. We are failing to address the seriousness of the public health crisis this country is facing,” Bennet said, referring to Trump’s statement that handling the medical supply shortages is up to state governors, not the federal government.
The Department of Health and Human Services estimates the United States will need 3.5 billion masks over the next year to fight the pandemic. But there are only 35 million masks available.
Bennet said this is not the fault of health care workers or first responders, but “they are on the front lines of this war.”
“We should be ashamed. I am. So the question is, how are we going to make sure our medical community has the supplies and equipment they need,” Bennet asked the divided Senate.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday that Colorado’s Community Health Centers will receive $1.7 million from the federal government through the coronavirus funding bill passed earlier this month.
The 3rd Congressional District will receive $500,000, including $54,050 for the Southwest Colorado Mental Health Center.
Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said he is also pushing for funding to expand mental health care for the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes.
“Rural Community Health Centers are critical for constituents in rural areas as they are often the sole location to receive care,” Tipton said in a news release.
But the funding won’t mean anything until there are medical supplies to purchase, and Bennet said on the Senate floor that items like masks, swabs and gloves currently cost seven times what they normally cost.
In a brief interview Tuesday with The Durango Herald, Tipton talked about medical professionals at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs who are sewing masks to put over N95 respirators and surgical masks so the respirator masks can be reused.
“We have innovation at the local level that is being replicated in Cortez and as far away as West Virginia,” Tipton said. But “production needs to be ramped up in the United States.”
Despite the fact that Trump is considering loosening social-distancing restrictions to re-open the economy, Tipton said that “at this point, we need to listen to medical professionals and we should continue to practice social distancing.”
“If we loosen restrictions at this point,” Tipton said, “it can increase the spread of the virus.”
Emily Hayes is a graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.