A health-care provider says it is cooperating with a federal fraud investigation into a deal for millions of N95 respirators that fell through, according to the Los Angeles Times. Kaiser Permanente is the latest group to get misgivings about the supplier touted by a worker’s union as ready to distribute 39 million of the now-precious masks.
Kaiser backed out of the deal after the supplier failed to explain how Kaiser could verify and inspect the gear, said Marc Brown, a spokesman for the provider, according to the Times. Kaiser “learned shortly afterward that the supplier never had possession of the masks,” Brown said.
The Service Employees International Union’s medical worker arm in California announced last week that it had tracked down a supplier with a surplus of N95 masks, as health-care workers face dangerous equipment shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic. The group’s president, Dave Regan, told The Washington Post at the time that the Pennsylvania supplier — which he declined to name — had seen purchases canceled or returned as countries hit early and hard by the coronavirus over-ordered.
Regan said the supplier would be selling the masks directly to Kaiser Permanente, the state of California and others. But concerns soon emerged from groups that the union had listed as buyers. The Greater New York Hospital Association said it was not, in fact, moving forward with the purchase after the supplier declined a request to visit the facility.
“That’s a red flag,” a spokesman for the association said last week.
Kaiser Permanente and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to inquiries from The Post on Friday night.
In a statement to The Post early Saturday, Steve Trossman, a spokesman for the union, said the supplier’s name was given to a federal task force, and that the union would “do everything we possibly can to address this problem.”
“For the sake of health care workers, first responders and the patients we serve, we desperately wanted to see the purchases come through,” Trossman said. “But the fact is that this situation cries out for government action to dramatically increase and distribute the PPE health care workers need to be safe on the job and to keep their patients safe.”