Items in stockpile to counter pandemic past prime at Pittsburgh VA
Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System has completed a review of hundreds of medical supplies stockpiled for large-scale emergencies because some of them expired, officials said.
The inventory of more than 200 pallets of items, stored at the VA Pittsburgh’s H.J. Heinz campus in O’Hara, was expected to determine which items can still be used, said Beth Miga, a VA Pittsburgh spokeswoman.
“We determined that a hands-on review of our pandemic response supplies was necessary to ensure our inventory records were as accurate as possible,” Miga wrote in an email.
The review was completed this week, but Miga would not disclose its results. She said federal law did not permit her to disclose what specific supplies have expired. She would only say that items in seven of 22 categories expired, triggering the review.
Experts say it is difficult to guarantee the efficacy of medical supplies that exceed a manufacturer’s expiration date.
“A reliable stockpile of supplies for combating an infectious disease outbreak or pandemic is essential,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician at the UPMC Center for Health Security. “When certain supplies’ age exceeds their manufacturer’s expiration date it is difficult to guarantee their efficacy, and health care workers should have the highest level of confidence in their equipment when treating patients with contagious infectious diseases.”
Those supplies include medications, vaccines and certain medical equipment, such as masks, respirators and other personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, he said.
“The proper handling of these substances is important for patients and public health,” U.S. Sen. Robert Casey said when told about the outdated items. “It’s incumbent upon the VA to replace these items quickly so they’re there in case of emergency and provide the public and local health officials all appropriate information.”
Miga said some of the items do not have manufacturer’s expiration dates, “but we are still examining these supplies to determine their status and order replacements if necessary.” She said the inventory would provide an opportunity “to study our warehouse procedures and ensure that soon-to-expire stocks are shifted for use within the VA system.”
Rules referred to by Miga describe the supplies as being “reserved specifically for the treatment of casualties from a mass casualty event.”
The caches, according to the directive, “are specifically intended to treat veterans, staff and others that may present to the local VA medical facility.”
Michael Stelacio, department commander of the Pennsylvania American Legion, called it unfortunate that supplies expired when they could have been transferred to other VA facilities for immediate use before expiration.
“It’s obvious there’s some ineptness,” Stelacio said. “This is another one of these things that has to be corrected.”
Walter F. Roche Jr. is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected].