Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill this week requiring all hospitals within California to stockpile 45 days’ worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) as a precaution against COVID-19 and other future disease outbreaks.
New PPE stockpiles to be made for emergency hospital, state use
Senate Bill 275, authored by Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), will allow a civil penalty of up to $25,000 to be placed on hospitals not following the new law and will form a Personal Protective Equipment Advisory Committee to develop guidelines and future changes to the PPE needed for outbreaks. The state itself will also fall under the bill, needing to build a 90-day supply of PPE for all health care and other essential workers
Senator Pan wrote SB 275 after the state experienced shortfalls of required PPE and was involved in controversial face mask deals a few months into the pandemic to meet estimated demand.
“Having emergency supplies at hand allows you to quickly respond to the infection,” said Senator Pan earlier this year. “When you don’t have the supplies, what we learned is that unfortunately caused a lot of problems. It put health care workers at risk, it put their patients at risk.”
Supporters of the bill also wanted hospitals and other healthcare systems to pay for PPE and not pay for such equipment themselves as it is equipment for essential and life-saving work. Many unions, such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the California Nurses Association backed SB 275 based on the bills goals.
“We want to make hospitals in the state responsible for their own workers,” noted California Nurses Association President Zenei Cortez in a statement over a sister bill. “Hospitals are responsible for providing a safe workplace and that includes PPE. They should not be relying exclusively on support from federal or state government stockpiles to provide PPE for nurses and other health care workers.”
SB 275 had faced opposition in the both the Senate and Assembly over the cost to businesses and the state for the now-required PPE, but both houses had more than enough support to pass.
Questions remain over Senator Pan removing previous PPE stockpiles 9 years ago
Questions over prior PPE stockpiles also came up during the summer, as Senator Pan was found to have helped kill a prior PPE stockpile law in 2011. A 2006 stockpile created by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to help fight future outbreaks after the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the bird flu pandemic in 2005 had only been costing California less than $6 million dollars a year to maintain going into 2011. However, the 2011 California budget crisis severely drained state resources. Despite the low cost of the program, both houses voted to can the program, with then-Assemblyman Pan being one of the deciding votes.
“When you’re stretched, prevention and readiness, future needs – unfortunately, that’s what gets cut,” said state Senator Pan in a later interview.
The cuts in 2011 have since been attributed to the high number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in California.
“We could have really used some of that early on,” EMT Peter Luna explained to the Globe. “We ran out of PPE while going out on calls, and for awhile, we had to rely on rubber kitchen gloves and clear tarp for awhile. There’s other horror stories of nurses using trash bags for protection and people using welding masks and gas masks in emergency situations.”
“I’m glad this passed, because now we’re prepared, but damn it would have made helping beat this virus easier early on if we had that. And medical professional or responder would tell you that.”
SB 275 is expected to cost the state around $50 million a year, compared to the $5.8 million a year of the Schwarzenegger era law. Stockpiles will need to be in place by January 1, 2023 under the bill.
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