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PA Small Town Mayors Join Call For National Medical Equipment Czar

John Minchillo
A medical worker wearing personal protective equipment pauses after wheeling a body to a refrigerated trailer serving as a makeshift morgue at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, Monday, April 6, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

Mayors around the country are calling on the federal government to change the way medical supplies are distributed. 

In an open letter drafted by the progressive Public Interest Research Group and addressed to President Trump, more than 100 mayors – including 37 from Pennsylvania – demanded that the administration immediately appoint a “medical equipment czar” and associated task force.

The letter calls for the task force to be responsible for overseeing the production, purchase and distribution of much-needed medical supplies, like masks, gloves and ventilators. The letter also demands that President Trump make greater use of the Defense Production Act, to compel private companies to produce urgently needed medical supplies and personal protective equipment.

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The president has invoked the act in recent days, to prevent supplies produced in the U.S. from being exported outside the country and to compel companies to produce masks and ventilators.

The call from the mayors and PIRG echoes that of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has asked the Trump administration to appoint a military official as medical equipment czar. So far, the White House appears mostly unmoved by such pleas; Trump's senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kusher saidRear Admiral John Polowczyk is "doing an amazing job" managing procurement and distribution of medical supplies.

The distribution of medical equipment from federal stockpiles has been a topic of concern across the country. Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Maine are among the states that have received only some of the supplies they requested.

Emma Horst-Martz, an associate with the Pennsylvania chapter of PIRG , said the lack of supplies isn’t the only issue.

“The fundamental problem is that there’s not central coordination, so states are competing against each other and the federal government for essential supplies.”

Such competition is what the mayors who signed on to PIRG's letter hope to stop.

Mayor John Henry of West View also serves as the EMS Chief for the borough. He’s concerned about the dwindling medical supplies, not just in hospitals, but for first responders as well.

“I can tell you the EMS services, many of them are very short in supply of some of these critical needs, and so we’ve been sharing with each other trying to make sure we have enough,” Henry said.

He emphasized the need for the Trump administration to act now to coordinate a “centralized distribution” of medical equipment.

Other local signatories to the letter include Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, Braddock Mayor Chardaé Jones, Wilkinsburg Mayor Marita Garrett, Monongahela Mayor Gregory Garry, Bellevue Mayor Emily Marburger, Duquesne Mayor Nickole Nesby, Sharpsburg Mayor Matthew Rudzki, Monessen Mayor Matthew Shorraw and Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker.