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Texas Has Spent More Than $200 Million On Personal Protective Equipment Orders To Combat Coronavirus

An attendee looks through different types of hoods during a training session on personal protective equipment in Houston.
Mark Felix
For The Texas Tribune
An attendee looks through different types of hoods during a training session on personal protective equipment in Houston.

The state of Texas has spent more than $200 million on 106 bulk orders of personal protective equipment from March 1 through early June, according to purchase orders released Tuesday by the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

Although purchase orders totaling $1.1 billion for protective equipment have been issued, orders for $638 million worth of items have been canceled and were not paid out. "Various federal funding sources" will reimburse the purchases or were used to make them, said Seth Christensen, a spokesperson for the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

There are a number of reasons why purchase orders were canceled, he said. It could be because a shipment didn’t meet the deadline outlined in the purchase order or that the products failed to pass the state’s quality assurance check, he said.

"When the product arrives, before it's taken off the truck, we go through a quality assurance process to test the product and make sure it's safe for use. If it doesn't meet that standard, we leave it on the truck, and we do not accept receipt of it and we do not pay for it," Christensen said.

Some of the orders were also made when global demand was high and supply was low, “and so purchase orders might have been issued to vendors who said they could get us a product and then they never did," he said.

There are still outstanding purchase orders.

Gov. Greg Abbott created a supply chain strike force in late March, as medical providers in Texas and across the country complained they lacked protective equipment, like N95 respirators and surgical masks. Keith Miears, senior vice president of worldwide procurement at Dell Technologies, was tapped to be supply chain director.

The governor has since provided updates on incoming shipments of the protective equipment and said at a May 18 press conference that "we now have ample supplies of PPE. Get this, we distribute well more than 1 million face masks per day."

In early March, the state submitted a request to the federal government for a "pro rata quantity" of protective equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile, which distributes resources during public health emergencies.

The form, provided to The Texas Tribune by the Department of State Health Services, says Texas at the time had a limited cache of protective equipment and had "exhausted all resources" to obtain more. The agency had contacted medical supply contractors like Grainger and 3M, the form says, but all requests were backordered due to international shortages.

"Texas hospitals and other healthcare facilities have exhausted all other supply resources within the state. The facilities are working on a 3-7 days' worth of PPE and cannot sustain normal operations, let alone an influx of COVID19 patients," the form says.

In an email to a federal official, state health services Commissioner John Hellerstedt said the state was “formally requesting as large a cache as is available” of certain medical supplies and equipment.

As of April, the state had received 1.6 million surgical masks, 1.3 million surgical gloves, 257,000 hospital gowns and 704,000 N95 masks, as well as coveralls and face shields.

The Texas Tribune provided this story.

Disclosure: Dell has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Shannon Najmabadi is the higher education reporter at the Tribune, where she started as a fellow in 2017. She previously reported for the Chronicle of Higher Education, where she covered the gender equity law Title IX, fallout from an executive order on immigration, and a federal loan forgiveness program with an uncertain future. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.