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Analysis

AHA Backs OIG, as Trumps Calls Scathing Report on Hospital Chaos 'Just Wrong'

By John Commins  
   April 07, 2020

Trump disparaged the report at a Monday press availability, where he baselessly suggested it was politically motivated. 

The American Hospital Association is defending federal auditors who've drawn the wrath of President Donald Trump for a scathing new report detailing hospital disarray and a slapdash federal response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Inspector General conducted a telephone survey on March 23-27 of 323 randomly selected hospitals across the nation. The survey found widespread shortages of vital medical equipment and a backlog of COVID-19 testing that was creating a bottleneck in patient throughput.

The report also detailed confusing and conflicting guidance given to hospitals from various federal agencies.

AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack called the OIG's report "important and timely" and said it "accurately captures the crisis that hospitals and health systems, physicians and nurses on the front lines face of not having enough personal protective equipment, medical supplies and equipment in their fight against COVID-19."

"The OIG report also highlights the tremendous strain – both physical and emotional – that this pandemic is putting on the shoulders of heroic physicians, nurses and other caregivers and their families, and why they need our support during this critical time," Pollack said.

Trump disparaged the report at a Monday press availability, where he baselessly suggested it was politically motivated. 

"It's just wrong. Did I hear the word 'inspector general,' really? It's wrong," Trump said, adding later, "Well where did he come from, the inspector general? What's his name? So, give me the name of the inspector general. Could politics be entered into that?"

Trump did not provide any evidence to affirm his suggestions that the report was incorrect or politically motivated. HHS OIG is an independent arm of the department, that is led by Christi Grimm, a woman, who has worked for the office since 1999. The auditors who wrote the report have served Republican and Democratic administrations.

He also deflected blame for a shortage of COVID-19 testing kits and the backlog of test results away from the federal response, saying "states are supposed to be doing testing. Hospitals are supposed to be doing testing."

"We're the federal government. We're not supposed to be standing on street corners doing testing," he said. "They go to doctors. They go to hospitals."

Trump continued to disparage the auditors and question the motivation for the report in a tweet on Tueday.

"Why didn’t the I.G., who spent 8 years with the Obama Administration (Did she Report on the failed H1N1 Swine Flu debacle where 17,000 people died?), want to talk to the Admirals, Generals, V.P. & others in charge, before doing her report. Another Fake Dossier!"

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show that 12,469 Americans died during the Swine Flu epidemic of 2009. The death toll from COVID-19 in the United States was 12,393 on Tuesday afternoon, with more than 86,000 deaths reported globally.

Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir, who attended the Monday briefing, said he doesn’t know the inspector general, but said the auditors should have come forward with their dire findings earlier.

"I'll tell you one thing I have a problem with: If there was such a problem that she knew about or he knew about on March 23 and 24, why did I find out about the test from them on the news media at 8 o'clock this morning," he said. "But that's a discussion for the future."

In defending the auditors, Pollack was careful not to dispute Trump directly, and even praised "certain agencies within the Administration (that) have responded to many of our concerns, particularly CMS, which has cleared regulatory red tape to allow hospitals the flexibility to take quick and decisive action in this rapidly changing situation to better care for patients."

Also Tuesday, without explanation, Trump removed Gerald Fine, a careeer employee, as the federal watchdog over the $2 trillion coronavirus emergency funding package, and named the the EPA inspector general as a temporary replacement.

“It's just wrong. Did I hear the word 'inspector general,' really? It's wrong!”

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

AHA says the OIG report "highlights the tremendous strain – both physical and emotional – that this pandemic is putting on the shoulders of heroic physicians, nurses  and their families."

HHS OIG is an independent arm of the department. The auditors who wrote the report have served Republican and Democratic administrations.

Trump also deflected blame for a shortage of COVID-19 testing kits and the backlog of test results away from the federal government.


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