The state Department of Health is beginning to account for millions being spent to combat the novel coronavirus.
The tab for emergency sole source procurements now posted for public viewing on the state Sunshine Portal stood at $14 million.
And that’s just a start. The Health Department earlier filed a general purchase order covering up to $200 million that might be spent in coming months.
In 34 filings early last week, the department said it spent money on masks, security guards, hotel rooms for health workers, ventilators, oxygen tanks, baby formula and waste disposal.
Until recently, the department wasn’t filing the emergency procurement orders, citing a lack of manpower during the state’s attempts to deal with the pandemic, which has claimed 396 lives in New Mexico as of Sunday. The Legislative Finance Committee expressed concerns over how the money was being spent and the lack of transparency.
The dollar amounts for procurements posted range from $225 to $2.3 million. Four Corners Welding and Gas Supply was paid $225 for 30 trash containers for an acute care facility in the Farmington area. Real Time Solutions, an Albuquerque web design and marketing company, got $2.3 million for “social advertising.”
Other big-ticket items include $2.1 million for three months’ rent at the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson SE in Albuquerque and $2.1 million to Presbyterian Healthcare Services for conducting 30,000 coronavirus tests. That was the only filing dealing directly with the costs of the more than 200,000 tests for the virus that have been conducted around the state.
The state is also paying for meals and laundry service for patients at the Gibson medical facility recovering from coronavirus.
The spending with Real Time was covered under a “price agreement” the company has with the state’s General Services Administration. The company has designed a number of the state’s websites.
All the state’s websites now link to one central COVID-19 website that is updated daily with the numbers of tests performed, positive and negative test results, and deaths and recoveries. The website also supplies information on where a person can get tested and other information.
There is no explanation provided other than the cover sheet that includes information such as the name and address of the company, the amount of the purchase and a general description of the items purchased.
Each purchase order includes a boilerplate emergency declaration and approval that references the coronavirus pandemic and the state’s emergency health orders.
The emergency purchases are posted on the state’s Sunshine Portal website, but there have been problems with some purchases being posted twice. The department is working to remove the duplicate purchase orders.
The purchase orders also don’t make clear the source of the money the department is spending. The state did receive more than $1 billion from the federal CARES Act, but there have been other grants from federal agencies directed at specific COVID-19 issues, including nursing homes and contact tracing.
The purchase orders do make clear what the Department of Health was buying, but the why isn’t always obvious.
For instance, there is no explanation as to why the state made two large purchases of infant formula from Nestle U.S.A. in Dallas – one for 300 cases for $31,000 and a second purchase of 91 cases for a little over $10,000.
Department spokesman David Morgan said, “We made two emergency acquisitions of baby formula as part of needed food supplies for both tribes, pueblos and nations, as well as for families isolating at our shelters while they have family members recovering from COVID-19 at home.”
The purpose of other purchase orders is clearer, like a $50,000 contract with the Utton and Kerry PA law firm to act as a hearing officer for complaints about the COVID-19 public health orders or the $10,000 paid to translate COVID-19 educational materials into Vietnamese.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has repeatedly talked about the difficulty of obtaining proper personal protective equipment for medical personnel and equipment to test as many people as possible for the virus.
The shortage of nasal swabs, essential for coronavirus testing, was high on the list of Lujan Grisham’s complaints for several weeks.
There is one emergency purchase order for nasal swabs – 500,000 of them for $340,000, from USA Capital Fund LLC based in Florida.
Two other purchase orders show USA Capital supplied 750,000 KN95 masks to the state for $1.4 million during the past three months.
In another emergency purchase order, the state paid USA Capital funding $1.5 million for 700,000 three-ply surgical masks and 250,000 gowns.
BioNet New Mexico LLC, a medical products and health service company based in Santa Fe, was paid more than $3.3 million in three separate purchases of more than 6 million pieces of PPE and 150 oxygen ventilators.
The department has also been buying “scrubs” shirts and pants for medical workers from a variety of companies in New Mexico and around the country.
Some of those purchases were small, such as $10,000 for 464 sets of scrubs for testing in Los Lunas. Others were larger, such as $94,000 when the state bought scrubs for medical facilities that were having trouble locating them.
The COVID-19 impact on the Navajo Nation, Gallup and the Farmington area shows up in some of the emergency purchases.
The state rented hotel rooms for people isolating themselves from family members infected with COVID-19, at a cost of $440,000 for 2,000 nights.
That price included meals and security.
The state also spent almost $38,000 on oxygen cylinders and $2,000 for 500 blankets.
Four on-call medical providers for the Gallup shutdown cost the state $228,000, including the costs of meals and lodging.
The state rented rooms at a Bloomfield motel at a cost of more than $82,000 for 100 nights to isolate people from sick family members.
The state also hired security guards to keep people staying at these shelters safe, including $224,874 to an Albuquerque security firm to provide guards for people staying at shelters in Gallup.
Another security firm was paid $45,000 to provide security for people staying at the Santa Fe Arts Institute.