WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump is disputing the findings of an inspector general whose report documents continued shortages of protective equipment for hospital workers and COVID-19 testing kits.
“It is wrong,” the president responded on Monday when asked about the report from the Health and Human Services’ acting inspector general. “We have done more testing, more results than anywhere in the world.”
Trump displayed a chart for reporters showing that 1.79 million tests for COVID-19 have been conducted in the United States.
“That number is growing by 125,000 people every day,” he added.
The president declined to further address the substance of questions about the report from the HHS inspector general.
President demands name
Trump, who has repeatedly criticized government watchdogs and whistleblowers, demanded of reporters who raised the issue at a White House briefing to give him the name of the official and when the person was appointed.
“We’re going to take a look at it,” said the president, minutes later, when told by a reporter that the acting inspector general of HHS is Christi Grimm.
Trump then asked how long Grimm has been in the government. A reporter replied that she held positions in previous administrations.
“You mean the Obama administration,” Trump responded. “Thank you for telling me that.”
Grimm has been employed at HHS since 1999 and has served in both Democratic and Republican-led administrations.
Late Friday, Trump informed Congress he was removing the inspector general for the U.S. intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, claiming he had lost trust in him.
300 hospital officials interviewed
The HHS inspector general’s report, released on Monday, is based on interviews with more than 300 hospital administrators from 46 states.
The most commonly reported challenges, according to the report, “centered on hospitals' efforts to confirm cases of COVID-19, to keep healthcare staff safe, and to provide needed services to patients requiring hospital care for a wide array of medical reasons, including COVID-19.”
The assistant inspector general at HHS, Ann Maxwell, told NBC News that she was "taken aback" by the horror stories she heard in interviews with hospital administrators.
"It is unprecedented," Maxwell said. "I think one moment that stands out for me is when I was talking to a hospital administrator and he told me that he had staff in the hospital out trying to procure masks and gloves from auto part shops, from home supply stores, from beauty salons, from art supply stores."
The president has repeatedly denied any shortcomings in the federal government’s response, asserting that it is primarily the responsibility of states to get needed supplies and they shouldn’t view Washington as a “shipping clerk.”
When asked by reporters about such complaints from states and the medical community, Trump has accused the media of being negative and nasty by raising such issues.
Democrats have also been critical of the administration’s response.
“If things are going so well with the distribution of critical medical supplies, why are there complaints from one end of America to the other?” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a tweet directed at Trump.
Surprised by decision
At Monday’s media briefing by the White House coronavirus task force, the assistant secretary of health, Admiral Brett Giroir of the U.S. Public Health Service, expressed surprise about how he was informed of the inspector general’s findings.
If there was such a problem on March 23 or 24, Giroir said, “why did I found out about the tests from them on the news media at 8 o’clock this morning?”
The admiral added the inspector general was “ethically obliged” to immediately tell him where there was a problem with supplies so he could have acted on it.
In the United States, there are 365,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases — the most of any country. The number of deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus has surpassed 10,000 with about one-third of the fatalities just in New York City.
The president agreed on Monday to a request from the governor of the state of New York for a U.S. navy hospital ship docked at New York City’s Pier 90 to treat coronavirus patients.
“This means 1,000 additional beds staffed by federal personnel,” tweeted Andrew Cuomo. “This will provide much-needed relief for our over stressed hospital systems.”
“We hadn’t that in mind at all but we’re going to let him do it” as well as allow COVID-19 patients from the state of New Jersey, Trump told reporters.