RELEASE: Gottheimer Announces Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen the Strategic National Stockpile, Combat Shortages, Modernize Healthcare Supply Chain

Ensuring New Jersey Frontline Workers, Families, Have Supplies They Need

Franklin Lakes, NJ, January 14, 2022
 

Above: Gottheimer with Tom Polen, BD Chairman, CEO, & President, Don Ecker, Executive Director of Supply Chain, Holy Name Medical Center and Bergen County Commissioner Tom Sullivan.

FRANKLIN LAKES, NJ — Today, Friday, January 14, 2022, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced new bipartisan legislation, the Medical and Health Stockpile Accountability Act, to strengthen the Strategic National Stockpile and ensure the U.S. is better prepared for future crises and pandemics. This legislation will combat equipment shortages and provide near real-time tracking of medical and health supply inventories in New Jersey and nationwide — for supplies that frontline workers desperately need. 

It will create a critical new national system to help prevent shortages like those experienced throughout the pandemic, from COVID-19 rapid tests now, to the mask and ventilator shortages from the beginning of the pandemic.

Gottheimer made this announcement today at BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company), an American company headquartered in Franklin Lakes, NJ, which creates and manufactures medical technology including vaccine syringes and COVID-19 tests. 

The bipartisan Medical and Health Stockpile Accountability Act will strengthen the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) and create resiliency in our supply chain by:

  1. Establishing a New National Automated Supply Chain Tracking System: Establishing an automated supply-chain tracking application within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that provides near real-time insight into the amount of critical medical and health supplies available in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) and in the medical and health inventories of local and private entities like hospitals, manufacturers, and distributors, and time estimates for when inventories may be replenished.
  2. Creating Clear Guidelines for Data Use & Sharing: Establishing clear guidelines and practices for data access and use of the new supply-chain tracking application, including consulting with public and private partners to develop national data collecting and reporting standards, creating visibility into inventory by standardizing data, and ensuring clear and efficient mechanisms for health care entities to report data in an emergency.
  3. Eliminating Inventory Reporting Errors: Eliminating manual reporting burden and errors by automating data feeds from health care entities to the new supply-chain tracking application.
  4. Testing the System Annually to Stay Prepared: Conducting an annual exercise to test the effectiveness of the application and to report any deficiencies.
  5. Helping State and Local Health Care Providers: Establishing an HHS program to assist state, local, and private health care entities, such as community hospitals, that do not have an automated vendor management system in developing such a system.
  6. Safeguarding Private Data: Instituting robust safeguards to protect confidential and proprietary information and to ensure that federal data collection is used for monitoring and dynamic allocation, not for reallocating inventory from hospitals or other organizations, advantaging any institution over another, or undermining the competitive marketplace.

“It was completely shocking to discover at the beginning of the pandemic — when New Jersey was hit so hard and our hospitals were in desperate need of masks and ventilators — that we had no way of knowing the quantity, location, or production of these supplies. Like others, I sat on the phone all night long with distributors in Europe and Asia trying to get shipments of masks and ventilators. I begged my colleagues in other states to see if their hospitals had anything they could spare — an extra ventilator or a few thousand masks and gowns,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “Three years later, that problem still exists. We just don’t have a handle on the exact quantities of critical medical supplies and drugs that are on U.S. soil at any given time. 

And this lack of visibility is hurting us again, right now, as we work to ramp up testing and higher-grade mask use, like N-95s, to help curb the spread of the omicron variant. This critical legislation will ensure that in future crises, we are much better prepared.”

Gottheimer was joined for today’s announcement by Tom Polen, BD Chairman, CEO, & President; Don Ecker, the Executive Director of Supply Chain at Holy Name Medical Center; and Bergen County Commissioner Tom Sullivan. 

“As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, BD continues to play a leading role in the global response,” said Tom Polen, the Chairman, CEO and President of BD. “We remain focused on providing technologies across the full spectrum of what’s needed around the world – from devices that help us understand the body’s immune response to COVID-19 to providing tens of millions of PCR and rapid COVID tests to devices that are critical to patients in ICUs and injection devices to administer more than 2 billion COVID vaccines around the globe. As we all continue in this fight against COVID-19, we appreciate Congressman Gottheimer’s commitment to protecting the health of all citizens through the important work he is doing to strengthen the country’s ability to respond to this and future pandemics.”

“Holy Name was at the epicenter of the pandemic in March 2020 and the supply chain availability was such a challenge. Getting PPP for our frontline workers was something I spent everyday thinking about and one of the challenges we kept running into is where is the availability going to come from — we had no visibility into what was out there in other parts of the country,” said Don Ecker, Executive Director of Supply Chain, Holy Name Medical Center, “The Medical and Health Stockpile Accountability Act will help us get visibility into what is available and where, which is something we really need to be ready for the next crisis to keep our community and our staff safe.”

“At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the deficiencies that existed within our medical supply chain became glaringly obvious. These shortfalls strained local hospitals and put our frontline workers, who often lacked the supplies necessary to ensure the safety of themselves and others, at risk. While our resolve got us through those immensely difficult days, it was clear that changes were needed,” said Bergen County Commissioner Tom Sullivan. “Today, I was proud to stand with Congressman Josh Gottheimer in support of crucial legislation that will ensure our supply chains are never again overwhelmed, and are instead prepared for the unexpected.

“This bipartisan bill will enable for the first time, real-time data on the entire supply chain for critical medical supplies needed during emergencies—from manufacturing, to distribution, to state and national stockpiles, to hospital inventory. This information will allow healthcare providers, manufacturers, distributors and the government to pinpoint the intersection of supply and demand, more effectively secure needed products, and better identify areas of vulnerability to prevent shortfalls in supply,” said Michael J. Alkire, the President and CEO of Premier Inc., an alliance of 4,400 U.S. hospitals and health systems and more than 225,000 health providers and organizations. 

Armed with information from this inventory monitoring infrastructure created by Gottheimer’s Medical and Health Stockpile Accountability Act, decision-makers like hospitals, manufacturers, distributors, and federal agencies will be better able to plan and allocate supplies to prevent shortfalls and hoarding, move product from the Strategic National Stockpile and other inventories to points of care, or ramp up production. 

Gottheimer also wrote to the President earlier this week and requested an increase in rapid testing supplies, by continuing to partner with private sector leaders and by utilizing the full power of the federal government, including the Defense Production Act. Additionally, Gottheimer requested expanded access to newly developed therapeutic drugs to get them directly to hospitals. It is vital that we keep supplies of these critical goods — masks, tests, therapeutics — flowing so that we can finally recover from the pandemic.

This bipartisan legislation builds on Gottheimer’s comprehensive agenda to address the COVID-driven supply chain crisis, by advancing federal action aimed at ending supply chain disruptions, shortages, and associated price increases.

Watch today’s announcement here.

Below: Congressman Gottheimer with BD’s new rapid COVID-19 test kit.

 

Below: Congressman Gottheimer speaking with with Tom Polen, BD Chairman, CEO, & President, Don Ecker, Executive Director of Supply Chain, Holy Name Medical Center and Bergen County Commissioner Tom Sullivan.

 
Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery: 

It’s an honor to be here at BD — one of our great American innovators in the life sciences that has gone above and beyond to help keep us safe throughout the pandemic. From the needles and syringes that delivered the vaccine, to developing a new rapid antigen test, BD is a great New Jersey company that is helping us through this crisis. I want to thank my friend, Tom Polen, for his Ironman-level leadership, and the teams of scientists and researchers, and all of those, especially the factory staff, who have been working around-the-clock tirelessly now for years to protect us. 

I also want to thank the doctors, nurses, techs, and other experts at our great hospitals like Holy Name who have put their lives on the line every day. And, Don, thanks again for being here and for all you do.

I remember very early in the pandemic, Tom calling me and saying, hey, the United States better place its order for needles and syringes, or we won't have any way to deliver the vaccine into people’s arms when we actually get it. I wrote a letter or two and called the Vice President — and helped get the order moving. In that instance, we were lucky. Tom was smart enough to look around the corner, when other countries were putting in their orders and we hadn’t. Oh, and the other ace in the hole: The largest global manufacturer of needles and syringes, BD, is a great American company who could actually help get us what we needed. And they did.

As you remember, we weren’t as lucky those early months when we couldn’t get enough ventilators, masks, and gowns. Nurses and doctors used bandanas to cover their mouths and hospitals had to ration the ventilators. Our heroic first responders and grocery store workers resorted to garbage bags for protection — something that was inconceivable and frankly unacceptable in this country.

Many of the devices in our supposed stockpile hadn’t been tested in years and just didn’t work. And, in far too many sectors, we had exported our manufacturing to other countries, so it was impossible to produce what we needed in short order. Like a lot of people, I was shocked by how ill prepared we were for a pandemic — and how reliant we were on others for critical supplies and knew then that we had to fix it.  And, thanks to some action we took, we’re now producing far more in terms of masks, ventilators, and other needs we identified early on. 

Things like masks and tests are now critical as we continue our recovery, to keep children safely in school for in-person learning, and to get parents back to work.

Over the last two years, my colleagues and I have taken action multiple times to fund the development and distribution of COVID testing supplies, vaccines, and other critical medical supplies that we need. In March 2020, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, which I co-chair, led the way by calling for an immediate rescue and revival plan, including rapid testing, documented inventories of PPE, masks, and ventilators across the supply chain, and expanded U.S.-based manufacturing of vital medical supplies. Those calls led to the passage of the CARES Act in March of 2020, which directed critical supplies like PPE, ventilators, medical devices, diagnostic tests, and more to be added to the Strategic National Stockpile. We also allocated critical investment to healthcare facilities and manufacturers to get them through the crisis and took steps to ensure the security of our domestic medical supply chain. 

Then, in December of 2020, the Problem Solvers Caucus again played a key role in getting additional relief legislation across the finish line. That bipartisan bill included $8 billion for vaccine distribution and millions for testing and other pandemic mitigation programs. Again, in early 2021, we passed the historic American Rescue Plan, which invested in contact tracing, vaccination, and testing. At the same time, the House passed my bipartisan provision to increase transparency into the country’s Strategic National Stockpile, the domestic supply chain, and the inventory of materials and equipment needed to continue to respond to the pandemic. I am pleased that so much of the relief we’ve delivered has passed on a bipartisan basis – after all, there’s nothing partisan about any of this. It’s just what’s good for America.  

Unfortunately, three years since the start of the crisis, despite all of this action, we are still seeing shortages of COVID tests, with not enough rapid tests available to many of those who need them, and testing lines that can take four hours or more. Some residents have called my office for help because they can’t even find a test.

You don’t have to be a scientist in a lab to know we have a real problem on our hands.

Earlier this week, I wrote the President and asked him to increase rapid testing supplies, by continuing to partner with private sector leaders and by utilizing the full power of the federal government, including the Defense Production Act. I also requested that he expand access to newly developed therapeutic drugs and get them directly to hospitals. It’s still vitally important that we keep supplies of these critical goods – masks, tests, therapeutics – flowing so that we can finally get out of this pandemic.

Today, I’m here to announce new, bipartisan legislation — the Medical and Health Stockpile Accountability Act — to help ensure that we don’t face this problem in future crises. I’ve been working very closely with Senator Cassidy and several of my House colleagues to ensure this legislation has broad support in both the House and the Senate, and on both sides of the aisle.

My new bipartisan legislation will establish an automated supply-chain tracking system that provides near real-time insight into critical supplies that are available in the Strategic National Stockpile and in medical and health supply inventories in New Jersey and communities across the country.

As I mentioned, early in the pandemic, it was masks and PPE, then it was ventilators. And, on top of the shortages, it was completely shocking to discover at the beginning of the pandemic — when New Jersey was hit so hard and our hospitals were in desperate need of ventilators — that we had no way of knowing the quantity, location, or production of these supplies. Like others, I sat on the phone all night long with distributors in Europe and Asia trying to get shipments of masks and ventilators. I begged my colleagues in other states to see if their hospitals had anything they could spare — an extra ventilator or a few thousand masks and gowns. I pleaded with the White House for anything they could spare from the stockpile. There was a shocking lack of transparency on what we had and where it was — on everything from masks, to needles and syringes, to ventilators, to prescription drugs.  

Moreover, because of the lack of understanding of what products were actually available and where, there was excessive purchasing of products, disingenuous and fraudulent vendors, and hoarding — which created shortages for others.

It was a collision of multiple issues with disastrous consequences for our communities.

Today, we still ust don’t have a handle on the exact quantities of critical medical supplies and drugs that are on U.S. soil at any given time. 

We have shortages of critical supplies in some places and surpluses in others. 

And this lack of visibility is hurting us again — right now — as we work to ramp up testing and higher-grade mask use, like N-95s, to help curb the spread of the omicron variant. 

In response to the urgent need to understand product availability and risks — early on in the pandemic — the federal government did stand up an emergency health information collection process to determine availability across the supply chain — basically just coordinating everything on an Excel spreadsheet file. This was already antiquated and it created substantial additional work for healthcare providers. 

Hospitals and other providers were also asked to report to state and local officials with similar, and sometimes different, data — this created redundancies and further confusion. 

The system ended up being of little help, because hospitals were using different names for the same things. Hospitals were reporting “boxes” and “units” differently from one another, creating massive discrepancies and no real understanding of how much of what was where. 

So, our communities needed masks, ventilators, prescription drug supplies, therapeutics, and more, that were available elsewhere in the country. The problem was, and still is, that no one knows exactly where they all are.

The Medical and Health Stockpile Accountability Act, that I’m announcing here today, will help ensure that hospitals, doctors, nurses and others responding to health emergencies have the supplies they need when they need them, so that they can provide safe, effective care for patients and not be put in harm’s way themselves. 

Armed with information from this inventory-monitoring infrastructure, decision-makers — including hospitals, manufacturers, distributors, and federal agencies — will be better able to plan and allocate supplies to prevent shortfalls and hoarding, move product from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) to points of care, or ramp up production when we can see we need to.

The supplies, medicines, and devices for lifesaving care contained in the stockpile are meant to be used as a short-term, stopgap buffer when the immediate supply of these materials may not be available or sufficient. 

But this stockpile is a lot less helpful if we don't know what we already have in the field and where it is — or if we haven’t ensured that everything in the stockpile is working and up-to-date

Frankly, this pandemic has made it crystal clear that the federal government needs an on-call, nimble, automated data collection infrastructure that the nation can call upon in any future public health crisis. 

Rather than standing up an inadequate and duplicative system, as we experienced during the pandemic, our nation needs a system that can track critical product availability — from the raw materials, to manufacturer, to distribution, to state and national stockpiles, to hospital inventory. That’s how we make sure what happened this time around, with doctors in trash-bags and ventilators being rationed, doesn’t happen again. That’s how we make sure we are ready for whatever the world throws at us. 

With my new bipartisan bill, this system will exist behind the scenes and be ready to be “turned on” in a moment’s notice. It will provide visibility of supplies in hospital inventories with detailed information that will enable accurate and intelligent decisions about our supplies and needs at the local, state, regional, and national levels. 

It will allow leaders to make strategic distribution decisions, minimize hoarding, and support powerful and accurate prediction — enabling the nation to manage supplies during a crisis. And the data could be made available to providers to help them understand community risks and enable intelligent purchasing — what they actually need to support their staff and patients and when. 

The current shortage of testing supplies is not just about quantity, but also about a lack of visibility into where the tests we do have are located. Let’s fix that, so it never happens again. 

This pandemic has taught us just how important it is that the Strategic National Stockpile includes testing supplies — nasal swabs, collection and sample tubes, pipettes, and pipette tips. Previously, these materials were not stored in our Stockpile — now they will. 

And I want to make it clear this data infrastructure is not just important in the case of a pandemic or epidemic, but in the case of localized natural disasters — hurricanes or other storms like Hurricane Ida, Superstorm Sandy, or Katrina, wildfires, and other tragedies that are becoming all too common here in New Jersey and around the country. 

The bottom line issue that this bill tackles head-on is figuring out what do we have and what do we not have? We can’t avoid these issues of supply shortages if we don’t know the basic facts of what we have. 

Let me give you an example of how this would work: 

During vaccine rollout, all needles and syringes, and especially low-dead space syringes, such as BD Integra, were critical in extracting the maximum number of doses from a vaccine vial. Hospitals, pharmacists, long-term care providers, and other clinicians were scrambling to find inventory of low-dead space syringes throughout the country. 

If we had an efficient mechanism for tracking these critical supplies, that scramble could have been avoided and frontline caregivers could have focused on getting more shots in arms. 

Today, BD is the manufacturer of one of the most popular rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests on the market, the BD Veritor Plus System. The test is a reliable rapid antigen test that allows for convenient portability and straightforward reporting options to employers, colleagues, and others. 

For both BD’s low-dead space syringes and rapid COVID tests, my legislation will will allow us to better track the availability of these critical supplies and their location in the supply chain. It will also help ensure a more equitable distribution of certain critical products, like BD’s syringes, across our supply chain.

Finally, this legislation is just one action I am taking to better prepare for future public health emergencies — or even a future pandemic. Early in the pandemic, I helped introduce helped introduce the Made In America Act, that requires federal agencies responsible for responding to national emergencies to procure essential supplies, like medication and personal protective equipment from domestic sources or manufacturing right here in the United States. I also sponsored legislation called the American PPE Supply Chain Integrity Act, which requires federal departments to purchase medical supplies and PPE from U.S. companies.

I’m also taking steps to address the other supply chain issues we are facing head-on, so that we don’t face bottlenecks like the ones we have seen ever again.  The CHIPS Act, which I have repeatedly called to be fully funded, takes critical steps to boost domestic manufacturing and lessen our reliance on foreign manufacturers like China by helping bring semiconductor and microchip manufacturing back to the United States. I am also a cosponsor of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, which addresses shipping collusion practices and streamlines ship and port usage. 

As for the testing we need right now, I was pleased to see the Biden Administration’s recent announcement that private health insurance — which covers 150 million Americans — will be required to cover the cost of up to eight over-the-counter, at-home COVID tests per month. And just yesterday, President Biden announced that the Administration would purchase another 500 million at-home COVID-19 tests in addition to the plan the President announced in December to order 500 million tests. Testing, along with continuing to take precautions like masking, will be critical for us to break out of the COVID economy once and for all. 

Of course, vaccination remains the single best line of defense we have against this virus. For those who are looking for testing sites or vaccine locations, you can find the State COVID resources link at covid19.nj.gov or at my website at http://gottheimer.house.gov. All of these resources are critical, because we need everyone to get vaccinated and boosted to ensure our communities and economy can recover.

My team and I are also regularly reaching out to the long-term care facilities and nursing homes across North Jersey to check in on how they’re protecting their residents.

The bottom line: the pandemic has taught all of us, including all of doctors, hospitals, and life sciences companies that none of us can afford just to think in the short term. We must also make sure we are learning lessons from this pandemic and better preparing ourselves for the future. That’s what this new bipartisan legislation does. It gets us ready for future disasters by thinking ahead and putting clear monitoring systems in place, which will save lives. 

By working together to improve our preparedness, I know here, in the greatest country in the world, we can be ready for whatever the world throws at us — helping to ensure that our best days are always ahead of us.

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