Burns skeptical of governor’s medical supplies redistribution order, as Cambria records first COVID-19 death

EBENSBURG, April 9 – As Cambria County records its first COVID-19 death, state Rep. Frank Burns is expressing skepticism over yesterday’s executive order by Gov. Tom Wolf allowing the state to redistribute scarce medical supplies based on greatest need.

Burns, D-Cambria, fears that Wolf’s order may rob Conemaugh Health System of badly needed supplies, funneling them to highly populated areas like Philadelphia and its surrounding counties, just as it and other rural hospitals get slammed with critically ill patients.

Burns said his concern is heightened by the fact that the first Cambria County death – 87-year-old Louis Blum – was a resident of Dysart, Dean Township, part of the 72nd Legislative District that Burns represents in Harrisburg.

“Cambria County has a significant elderly population, a group that is most vulnerable to COVID-19, and the death of Mr. Blum proves that the need is now knocking at our door,” Burns said. “Now is not the time to be confiscating masks, gowns, ventilators and other equipment, which is already in modest stock locally, and redistributing it elsewhere.”

Prior to Wolf’s redistribution order, Burns wrote the governor asking that a fair share of supplies available at the state level be earmarked for rural areas. He took that action after being informed by Conemaugh officials that masks were a No. 1 priority.

“Just like most of my friends and neighbors, I’m no fan of seizing private property,” Burns said. “I also worry that somewhere along the line, the definition of ‘greatest need’ will in essence mean ‘greatest population,’ which means rural counties are asked to give, but not receive.”

Burns said his review of the Pennsylvania Hospital Preparedness Dashboard that went online Wednesday shows that Cambria County, with a population of nearly 134,000, only has 34 available adult ICU beds and 36 available ventilators.

“I would not be doing my job as an elected official if I did not stand up for the health of the people I serve,” Burns said. “The last thing any of us want to see is Cambria County’s ability to combat this pandemic weakened instead of strengthened.

“Part of the governor’s order was that hospitals perform an inventory of what’s on hand, partly so that supplies can be sent to smaller, less-prepared facilities. But with everyone clamoring for items that are in short supply, I’ll be watching for fairness and transparency in that process.”