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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Report trashed by Trump credibly sums up virus crisis in hospitals

Registered nurse Sasha Winslow and other health care

Registered nurse Sasha Winslow and other health care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic call for more equipment and staffing at a rally April 3 outside The Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. Credit: Craig Ruttle

President Donald Trump has created yet another sideshow by slinging mud at a career government employee for no other reason than she did her job. This sort of deflection, already routine at the White House, now infects his response to a massive national crisis.

Trump lashed out Monday at reporters who asked for his response to a cautiously factual, briefing-style report from the Health and Human Services inspector general's office. Then he attacked the bureaucrat on Twitter again Tuesday based on a distortion of her resume.

Details of the president's defensive smear are less important than what the IG's office reported. U.S. hospitals are describing serious trouble getting equipment, supplies and coronavirus tests. This is the kind of outreach you'd expect of any administration. Many of the specifics are already quite familiar in Nassau, Suffolk and New York City.

Right at the start, the report states: "This is not a review of HHS response to the COVID-19 pandemic." Rather, it is a snapshot of hospital operations for the week of March 23-27, to be used according to its text as "an aid for HHS as it continues to lead efforts to address this public health emergency." The IG's office consulted 323 hospitals in 46 states.

Among the findings: Hospitals were trying to make their own disinfectant from in-house chemicals; they faced low supplies of toilet paper and food, and one even had to obtain face masks from nail salons.

Hospitals reported having to cope with changing, confusing and sometimes conflicting guidance from state, local and federal agencies.

Ventilators are, of course, in short supply, as is capacity for patients in coronavirus-stricken areas, the survey said. There also are staffing problems, aggravated by workers' exposure to the virus.

"[Hospitals] often end up in competition against each other," said Assistant IG Ann Maxwell. "We heard hospitals report that they felt there could be more of a role for the federal government to help intervene and coordinate the supplies that they needed and the distribution of those supplies."

Overall, she said, “There's this sort of domino effect. These challenges play off each other and exacerbate the situation. There's a cascade effect.” She called the dire conditions, under the circumstances, "unprecedented."

These problems have been widely publicized for weeks. They reinforce descriptions from numerous public officials, including New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

But Trump ranted on Twitter: "Why didn’t the I.G., who spent 8 years with the Obama Administration (Did she Report on the failed H1N1 Swine Flu debacle where 17,000 people died?), want to talk to the Admirals, Generals, V.P. & others in charge, before doing her report. Another Fake Dossier!"

Not that it would matter to the president, but Christi Grimm, who is principal deputy inspector general for HHS, began at the office in 1999 during the Clinton administration and later worked for both the Bush and Obama administrations. Maxwell, assistant inspector general, has a similar background to Grimm's.

Snapshot surveys of hospitals do not call for higher-ups to get a chance to suppress or politically sanitize the findings. Trump's use of the word "dossier" is just a political signal for the Trump faithful, indoctrinated with the notion that a negative-research campaign memo was entirely to blame for his Russia-Ukraine scandal.

When asked about the report at the White House, Trump said, "It's just wrong. Did I hear the word 'inspector general,' really? It's wrong."

Clearly peeved that his own administration produced evidence that the federal coronavirus response has been less than stellar, Trump appeared unable to say what in the report was "wrong."

Unsurprisingly, there was no evidence that he'd read it — or even knew about it — before attempting self-righteous denials.

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