State has spent nearly $240 million on COVID-19 response
In 51 days, Illinois spent almost $240 million on equipment, personnel and other items related to the state's battle against the spread of COVID-19.
That's roughly $4.6 million a day through a relaxed purchasing process, with no legislative oversight and almost all of it at inflated prices.
"From what I've seen, yes, it's an absolutely true statement, with everybody competing for a finite amount of resources, we have seen an increase in price for everything," said Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau. "What I would say is it is truly supply and demand and there are some bad actors out there, so it's kind of a challenge."
Still, state officials believe they've gotten the best deals possible under the circumstances and have been diligent about weeding out and reporting profiteers and fraudsters.
"It's something we've been deeply concerned about, and we've been in consultation consistently not only with the attorney general's office in the state and state police, but also federal authorities to make sure we're following all the protocols that would be necessary to try and prevent fraud against the state," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday. "We're all just trying to do the right thing in an emergency and pandemic, and you can imagine the people trying to take advantage, they're pretty awful people."
With the governor's disaster declaration, the bidding process is relaxed, allowing the state to make purchases from selected vendors that register with the state and would undergo greater vetting under normal circumstances, state officials said.
According to a Daily Herald analysis of state spending reports available at Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza's website, illinoiscomptroller.gov/covid19-information, from March 23 to May 13, the state spent more than $5.7 million to purchase 24,806,500 medical gloves alone. That's 23 cents per unit. Before the outbreak, wholesale unit prices on these types of gloves were less than a dime, health care officials said.
More than 50 million face masks, including millions of coveted N95 respirators, were purchased by the state for $73 million. Nearly 30 million medical gowns for health care workers were purchased for $34 million.
The state spent $11.8 million on 5.7 million face shields for hospital employees. Two flights to China to pick up and deliver medical supplies back to Illinois cost nearly $1.8 million. And 2,000 new ventilators cost taxpayers more than $27.7 million.
"Right now those ventilators are in a stockpile ready to be distributed regionally if there's a second wave of infections," Tate-Nadeau said.
But some legislators are worried that spending by the state over the last several months could result in waste.
"These were all no-bid contracts with single-source suppliers," said Republican state Rep. Grant Wehrli of Naperville. "We need outside, independent audits within the next year of how this money was spent. Illinois has a long history of misspending and corruption, and we need to make sure none of that has happened here."
Pritzker said the state's procurement team did as much as they could to avoid waste and scams. He wouldn't elaborate on the various methods the state used to ensure a vendor was reputable, except to say in most cases the state required documentation from a vendor's other clients vouching for the company.
"In consultation with many other governors, we discovered there were a lot of folks out there that were trying to put one over on states and their procurement teams," the governor said.
In all, 89 vendors received some of the $238,150,295 in COVID-related spending from the state. The largest share -- $22.3 million -- went to Chicago-based Favorite Healthcare Staffing.
The agency provided emergency nursing staffing at the Cook County jail and state-run locations, including retainers to staff alternate-care facilities like McCormick Place, which was rarely used during the height of the outbreak.
The alternate care facility at McCormick was a much-touted response to the potential surge in cases that never materialized. It was built to care for 2,500 non-acute patients, but Tate-Nadeau said only 38 people were ever treated there.
The state spent at least $11.7 million to staff and manage the facility, according to the invoices on Mendoza's site.
Several other shuttered hospitals in the suburbs were also readied to handle excess patients if working hospitals became overwhelmed. None of those had any patients.
"It goes back to being ready for a second wave," Tate-Nadeau said.
In addition to the emergency procurements, the IEMA staff is already busy auditing previous purchases and planning stockpiles for a potential second wave of infections that many experts believe will come this fall.
Tate-Nadeau said IEMA analysts believe a 60-day supply of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies is necessary to cover a significant uptick in cases the state might see. Preparation for another outbreak will lessen the ultimate cost to taxpayers, she believes. The state can continue to make emergency purchases to restock supplies.
"The biggest thing I would point out is all the silent people behind us that have been making this happen," she said. "These have not been easy feats to overcome, and what I think has been fantastic about Illinois is you have the entire state driving in the same direction to make sure they have the residents of Illinois in mind. That's how I know we'll be prepared for a second wave."
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