Health Investigations

As Kentucky competes with other public health departments for personal protective equipment from the federal government, state officials have shared details about how much the state has gotten to date.

Kentucky Department of Public Health officials told KyCIR it has received distributions  from the cache of medical equipment maintained by the federal government, called the Strategic National Stockpile, totalling 83,488 N95 masks, 198,886 face and surgical masks and 37,872 face shields since the pandemic hit Kentucky. It’s unclear how close that comes to what they’ve asked for, but Gov. Andy Beshear has said the federal government has not fully granted Kentucky’s requests. 

The governor also said the lack of supplies is contributing to the delay in testing for the coronavirus and creating danger for healthcare workers.

New documents obtained by KyCIR through an open records request shed light on how much state officials have requested from the national stockpile. 

Kentucky has asked for at least two disbursements: the initial, unspecified allotment of supplies it got from the stockpile earlier this month and a second request for more. That request asks for 50,000 N95 masks, 100,000 COVID-19 collection kits and 100,000 test kits, among other supplies, by March 23.

“Our first SNS allocation has been distributed, but we expect our burn rate, even with [personal protective equipment] conservation strategies, to exhaust our supply soon,” the request reads. “We need more.”

Kentucky Department of Public Health

A representative of the governor’s office has not yet responded to a question about whether the second request has been fulfilled and to what extent. But at a press conference on March 24, the day after the Kentucky Department of Public Health said it would need the additional supplies, Beshear said Kentucky’s disbursement from the Strategic National Stockpile was “not nearly what we asked for.”

Congressman Andy Barr, a Republican representing Kentucky’s 6th District, issued a press release on March 16 about his office’s work to help coordinate a delivery from the Strategic National Stockpile. “I stand ready to help facilitate these and similar requests from those on the front lines of this pandemic in the days and weeks ahead,” Rep. Barr said in the release.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has also been involved in securing equipment for the stockpile. Paul introduced legislation on March 20 that would redirect $350 million towards the Strategic National Stockpile to purchase more equipment. Paul, a Republican from Bowling Green, announced he tested positive for the coronavirus on March 22.

The investigative journalism nonprofit ProPublica has reported that public health departments across the country are complaining that their requests to the national stockpile have gone unfulfilled. Officials in Oregon and Oklahoma told ProPublica only about 10% of their requests have been fulfilled and New Jersey has received less than 6% of its requests. Kentucky has yet to release the percentage of its requests that have been fulfilled.