Gottheimer legislation aims to improve emergency stockpiles

U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer remembers the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when he assisted in the seemingly futile search for items that health care facilities and workers desperately needed.

Gottheimer (D-5th Dist.) remembers the frustration.

“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,” he said. “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.”

He’s stunned that this still is an issue.

“Three years later, that problem still exists,” he said. “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 is why Gottheimer last Friday announced the Medical and Health Stockpile Accountability Act — legislation he said is aimed at strengthening the strategic national stockpile.

Gottheimer said the legislation will combat equipment shortages and provide near real-time tracking of medical and health supply inventories in New Jersey and nationwide by creating a 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 the announcement in Franklin Lakes at the headquarters of BD — one of the leading manufactures of medical products related to the pandemic, including tests and syringes.

The act intends to do the following:

  • Establish a national automated supply chain tracking system: Established within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it will provide near real-time insight into the amount of critical medical and health supplies available in the Strategic National Stockpile 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.
  • Create clear guidelines for data use and 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.
  • Eliminate inventory reporting errors: Eliminating manual reporting burden and errors by automating data feeds from health care entities to the new supply-chain tracking application.
  • Test the system annually to stay prepared: Conducting an annual exercise to test the effectiveness of the application and to report any deficiencies.
  • Help 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.
  • Safeguard 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.

Gottheimer said he feels the legislation will help during the COVID-19 pandemic — and whatever pandemic potentially comes in the future.

“This critical legislation will ensure that, in future crises, we are much better prepared,” he said.

Gottheimer made the announcement with Tom Polen, BD’s chairman and CEO; Don Ecker, executive director of supply chain at Holy Name; and Tom Sullivan, a Bergen County commissioner.