DENTON, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – From plastic gowns that look like trash bags to gloves too small for most adult hands, nursing homes trying to protect their residents say some of the personal protective equipment sent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been “unusable.”
FEMA promised to provide two weeks’ worth of gowns, gloves, surgical masks and eye protection for 15,000 nursing homes across the county.
In a video posted on Facebook by FEMA last month, the government agency touted its effort showing images of nursing homes workers in full body protective gowns, N95 masks, and face shields.
The video also includes a testimonial from Sister Joseph Beutler of Little Sisters of the Poor who said she was ‘grateful” and “thrilled” with the PPE shipment from FEMA.
But many other nursing homes say the shipments from FEMA have been disappointing.
“It’s been nothing short of a disaster,” said Katie Sloan, CEO of LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit providers of aging services. “Nursing homes are certainly not getting what they were promised.”
According to records provided by FEMA to the CBS 11 I-Team, more than 1,100 nursing homes in Texas received a PPE shipment.
Some North Texas nursing homes said they were grateful for what they received, while others said much of what they received was unusable. Still others said they have not received anything despite FEMA’s records.
Officials with the Good Samaritan Society said most of what their two Denton nursing homes, Lake Forest and Denton Village, received is unusable.
The gloves, almost all extra small, came stuffed in zip lock bags without any labels. The gowns appear as if scissors were used to cut out the head hole. Meanwhile, the masks have thin cotton mesh for the ear loops that nursing home officials say often tear causing the masks to fall off.
“I wouldn’t say we are disappointed as much as we are confused,” said Melissa Steffan, regional vice president for the Good Samaritan Society. “We appreciate FEMA for the effort to help but what’s at question is the usefulness of it. Most of what we received is unusable.”
FEMA said all of the equipment meets industry certification.
An agency spokesperson said nursing homes “may not be familiar” with the type gowns sent and will be sharing an instruction video about proper use with nursing homes.
Dr. Noah Marco, chief medical officer at the Los Angeles Jewish Home, said blaming those who work at nursing homes is “insulting.”
“FEMA’s attempt to divert the appropriate public scrutiny that occurred from them sending embarrassingly unusable equipment and blame the clinicians who work in nursing homes is inappropriate and insulting,” he said.
In addition, according to an audio recording obtain of the I-Team, a high ranking FEMA official told a group of nursing homes thousands of expired masks were sent to nursing homes by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“They just kind of carte blanche shipped them all out and then, unfortunately, they were received by individuals,” said Col. Brian Kuhn, the FEMA official overseeing the shipments. “It was just one of things, and I’ll be honest, that kind of slipped through the cracks that probably should have never gone out.”
For months nursing homes have voiced concerns about the lack of available PPE.
As COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes reach more than 50,000, many said they fear their concerns are falling on deaf ears.
Sloan said, “We have been pleading for months for a federal response – a coordinated response and plan for distributing PPE and testing to nursing homes around the country. It is absolutely essential and we haven’t gotten it.”
LeadingAge sent Vice President Mike Pence a letter urging him to take swift action before the next round of PPE is sent to nursing homes.
The second shipment is set to go out on Wednesday.