A day after releasing redacted documents that kept hidden the identity of suppliers of personal protective equipment and other materials, the state on Wednesday reversed course and released the information to The Frontier.
The Frontier reported on Wednesday that in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the state had issued about $80 million in orders for life-saving equipment, such as respirators, gloves and gowns. However, the state had declined to disclose who officials were buying the supplies from, saying revealing the sources could damage Oklahoma’s ability to secure the equipment.
Though government contracts are public under Oklahoma law, the health department had said an executive order from Gov. Kevin Stitt made supplier information private.
But on Wednesday evening the health department released a document to The Frontier that included the names of suppliers.
Records indicate the state searched high and low to get hard-to-find protective equipment and other supplies to doctors, nurses and other front-line workers as public health professionals warned of COVID-19 outbreaks.
The document lists almost 30 vendors from across the state and country that officials have issued orders to. It shows the state spent millions buying equipment from all sorts of places, including private equity firms, medical suppliers and other companies from across the country.
State officials ordered N95 respirators from a kiteboarding company in California called Wind Over Water Kiteboarding. They found respirators at an industrial hemp company based in Utah, Green Rock Hemp Holdings, LLC.. Thousands of face shields were secured from a Tulsa packaging company named Professional Image that started making personal protective equipment in response to the pandemic.
Purchasing records, which were obtained through an open records request by The Frontier, show state officials approved around $80 million to purchase equipment, but many of those orders were canceled.
About $53.4 million — the bulk of the ordering efforts — was for N95 respirators, records show. The state also ordered millions of dollars of disposable gowns, nitrile gloves and surgical masks.
The state issued a purchase order to a California-based molecular diagnostics company for a $147,000 device to process specimens for COVID-19 testing. As officials scrambled to secure more ventilators for the sickest patients, it ordered a $367,000 machine from a company in Louisiana. They ordered hundreds of thousands of dollars in CPAP and BiPAP machines.
It’s unclear how much has been paid out for orders so far.
As of April 1, the state had spent more than $2.26 million on personal protective equipment, according to an OMES spokesman. More than $16 million in orders had been issued, he said. An updated figure was not immediately available on Wednesday.
States have raced to secure personal protective equipment and other materials, which have been in short supply, in response to the pandemic, and many have found themselves competing with other states and the federal government.
There have been reports of questionable transactions and fraud across the country.
Stitt’s executive order suspended many of the requirements of the normal purchasing process, such as obtaining competitive bids or buying through preferred states vendors, so agencies could quickly respond to urgent needs for personal protective gear and other equipment.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter on April 28 requested an investigative audit into the health department’s spending of state-appropriated funds after media reports disclosed steps the health department had taken to procure N95 masks and other protective equipment during the pandemic. Critics said the agency’s methods were risky.
The Oklahoman reported last month health officials had been moving forward with a $9.5 million purchase of N95 masks from a company even though they were told the FBI was investigating it.
The state received criticism in late April after the Associated Press reported it spent $2 million to buy a supply of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug touted by Trump to treat patients with COVID-19.
Stitt said his administration has strong reporting requirements in place.
“In light of Congress providing Oklahoma with $1.2 billion in funds to respond to COVID-19, my administration arranged a few weeks ago a strategic financial team of public employees to closely monitor COVID-related transactions and to be prepared to account for every penny to Congress and the federal government,” Stitt said in a new release in April.
State officials have acknowledged securing personal protective equipment during the pandemic has been challenging.
“Right now the entire world is competing for the same thing. It’s not just another country, it’s hospitals, it’s everybody,” DeMarco said in an interview with The Frontier in mid-April.
“It’s been extremely competitive. I think we’ve done very well from a purchasing standpoint.”