Lack of planning led to San Mateo County PPE being left out in the rain

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Cardboard boxes containing about $7 million worth of personal protective equipment purchased by San Mateo County were left outside in the rain last fall because county officials had no definitive plan or timeline to protect or move PPE, according to an investigative report released Thursday.

The independent analysis requested by county officials describes the series of events that led to PPE being left outside for months and says the county lacked internal controls and adequate communication that could have prevented the boxes to soak. The report found no one at fault, so no one was disciplined, officials said.

“What is clear is that this should not have happened,” San Mateo County Executive Mike Callagy said in a statement Thursday. “What is equally clear is that we are taking the necessary steps to ensure that we put the checks and balances in place so that this never happens again.”

The PPE inside the boxes – mostly face shields, goggles, non-medical gowns and cleaning supplies – was purchased in 2020 at the start of the pandemic and stored inside Fiesta Hall at San Mateo County Event Center in the city of San Mateo, officials said.

The supplies were procured at a time “when no one knew how long global supply shortages would last and jurisdictions across the country were competing to buy safety equipment, even non-medical grade items, to protect first responders and communities,” Callagy said in a statement. in January.

San Mateo County purchased “significantly more” PPE than other California counties, and “a significant amount of this equipment was ultimately rendered useless,” the report said.

The county offered the PPE to healthcare providers, schools and even other states, but “few took up the offer because the sizes, quantities (and) other considerations made them less appropriate” , Callagy said. The supplies were moved outdoors in September to make way for a conference at the Event Center. Other county facilities did not have enough space for them, officials said.

But the supplies were never brought inside as they were supposed to, and the storms that flooded the area in October damaged the boxes. More than 90% of the items in the boxes were individually wrapped in plastic and were unaffected by the rain, according to the survey report. The value of the damaged PPE was $128,152, officials said.

Thursday’s report says the county moved PPE outside Fiesta Hall “with no definitive plan and schedule” for distribution, no contingency plan to store PPE ahead of the rainy season, and no plan to protect PPE from the elements.

The county intended to temporarily store the boxes in Fiesta Hall and was paying about $100,000 a month to lease the space to the nonprofit that runs it. But other tasks such as setting up vaccination clinics and helping the county continue to ‘reopen’ after more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions meant that ‘no one-size-fits-all solution’ was within reach and other more immediate priorities took precedence,” according to the report.

“Facilitating the reopening of the event center has become a higher priority than the careful preservation of protective equipment,” the report said.

James Lianides, the independent investigator and former superintendent of Sequoia Union High School District, recommended in his report that San Mateo County Health and the County Emergency Operations Center improve their coordination and that some staff at the county undergo annual training and examination on federal and state policies. emergency management regulations.

Other recommendations for the county include adjusting its decision-making process so that there is greater accountability and clearer delegation of responsibilities, as well as hiring an expert and purchasing software. to help with the storage, tracking and distribution of supplies.

When officials were notified of the damage in January, the County Board of Supervisors authorized county staff to distribute still usable PPE to organizations that wanted it. The county has partnered with the nonprofit Wine Country Marines, which this month had shared about 12% of PPE left outside with other organizations and government agencies, officials and officials said. the investigation report.

San Mateo County’s supply of gloves and masks, including N95 and KN95 respirators, were kept in a separate indoor location and were unaffected by the storms, officials said. Damage to PPE that was left outside did not impact the county’s response to COVID-19, Callagy said.

Callgy said Thursday the county has hired government consulting firm Management Partners “to review industry best practices that will be reviewed and implemented once we have those findings.”

“San Mateo County was a leader during the pandemic but we should have done better here. We will learn from this to ensure this never happens again,” Callagy said in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has been and continues to cause so much pain to so many people. All county employees, regardless of role, are also emergency service workers and have served their community to the best of their abilities during these difficult times. We had a system failure, and that system will be fixed.”

Andy Picon (he/him) is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @andpicon

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