April 6 (UPI) -- The inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services said in a report Monday U.S. hospitals face severe shortages of medical equipment to fight the coronavirus disease and pose increased risks for front-line health workers.
The hospitals' conditions, it said, are limiting their "ability to monitor the health of patients and staff."
The report is based on a survey of the facilities between March 23 and March 27. It is the first government assessment of how U.S. hospitals are coping with the coronavirus emergency.
According to the report, there are "widespread shortages" of personal protective equipment that put staff and patients at risk of picking up the coronavirus disease. Some hospitals also said they're struggling to maintain adequate staffing levels.
Some hospitals reported that equipment from the federal government has been unusable because it's of low quality or past its use date. One hospital said it received two shipments that contained protective gear that expired in 2010.
Government officials, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have said for several days they lack critical medical equipment to fight the spread of the virus and treat critically ill patients.
The report also found that some hospitals were concerned about being overwhelmed with a surge of new patients that require special beds and isolated areas. Anticipated shortages of ventilators is a particular concern, along with increasing costs and falling revenues.
The hospitals' concerns are heightened by the what the report calls "changing and sometimes inconsistent guidance from federal, state, and local authorities."
"Some hospitals reported that the multiple changes in guidance [from the CDC] contributed to a greater sense of confusion, fear and distrust among staff that they could rely on hospital procedures to protect them," the report states.
The lack of complete diagnostic testing kits and individual components, it notes, has made some hospitals "unable to effectively test" staffers, patients and others in the community concerned about possible exposure.
One hospital administrator told the inspector general's office that millions of tests are needed nationwide, "and we only have hundreds."