‘The entire world was buying personal protective equipment’: Indiana spent $200 million on PPE during pandemic in 2020

Coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS – The state of Indiana confirms it spent more than $200 million on personal protection equipment in 2020.

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation is typically responsible for helping companies expand. When the pandemic hit though, the IEDC became a liaison between the governor’s office and businesses.

“Having daily phone calls with different businesses around the state explaining what was going on, how the governor was feeling and what the executive orders were going to be,” Luke Bosso explained. “Then, it kind morphed into companies reaching out and saying, ‘Hey, we can make personal protective equipment for you or we have additional protective equipment.’ Based on that, we became the lead agency buying PPE for the entire state of Indiana.”

The first case of coronavirus was detected in Indianapolis on March 6 of 2020. Governor Eric Holcomb quickly declared the outbreak a public emergency. The IEDC began shopping for masks, gowns, gloves and hand sanitizer. It submitted its first purchase order on March 26.

“I think people kind of forget about this, but the entire world was buying personal protective equipment. By the time it came to the United States, it had already hit Europe. It had already hit China. So not only were we competing against other states, we were competing against countries to get PPE,” Bosso said.

Bosso said the IEDC was skeptical if companies had a lot of supplies readily available. The agency knew scammers were trying to make a quick buck.

“It was the Wild West. Everyone was emailing you. Everyone was telling you they had real masks,” he said.

The IEDC confirmed it was sold several counterfeit items, but because the agency refused to pay for the supplies until after a rigorous inspection, the state never wasted any money. Instead, Indiana shipped the counterfeit goods back to where they came from.

Bosso showed CBS4 what one of the counterfeit items looked like.

“It has little things you wouldn’t know about. Even on the folded ones, there is no little piece here,” he said, pointing to the outside nose piece. “The bands don’t stick together.”

Indiana rushed to get PPE, but said often other states would offer the same companies four times the cost for supplies in order to get them quicker. In other words, states were cutting in line.

“We always tried to work with other states, but it wasn’t always a great partnership,” Bosso admitted.

Soon after the pandemic began, Indiana officials figured out it would be best if they stopped buying from overseas and purchased largely from in-state companies instead. The IEDC worked most with After Action Medical and Dental, American Melt Blown and Filtration, Cardinal Spirits, Fatheadz, GDC, Inc., Jordan Manufacturing, Super ATV and Top Stitch, among others. It also turned to the Mursix Corporation out of Yorktown for face shields.

Mursix, which typically manufacturers automotive and medical components, said its automotive line shut down in early March.

“A few of us got our heads together on a Sunday morning, very early, and tried to think of what we could do to keep our people employed and contribute to what was becoming an incredibly important cause in keeping our healthcare workers protected,” said Susan Carlock, vice president of Business Development.

Mursix developed a face shield prototype and within hours had a product ready to go.

“By Monday, we had our first order for 10,000 face shields, and by the end of the week, we were able to start shipping 100,000 at a time, 500,000 at a time,” Carlock remembered.

Then, Mursix got its first order for one and two million face shields at a time.

“It was quite incredible. It was amazing for our people, us here, and for this community to play such an important role,” Carlock said.

Mursix set up socially distanced tables throughout their 248,000 square-foot facility. Each associate aimed to make 200 face shields an hour. The company also hired 200 other employees and set them up at satellite locations.

“There was not a lot of sleep,” Carlock laughed. “It was seven days a week, we were all on and energized. Everybody contributed.”

The corporation ended up selling their face shields to five states, including Massachusetts, Illinois, California, Michigan and Indiana.

“We made 1.5 million face shields for the state,” Carlock said.

Mursix ran into a widespread issue as well. It struggled to get raw materials to make the face shields.

“Everybody was buying elastic, not only for the face shields, but for the face masks,” Dieringer explained. “Volumes were out of this world. We were buying 300,000 yards, and that wasn’t even enough! When we would call up and talk to someone, they would be like, ‘How much do you need? Do you need 20 yards?’ And we were like, ‘No, we need a skid full of elastic. We need a semi of elastic.’ And they would say, ‘Are you sure?’”

Mursix just recently shipped out its last order. It does have extra supplies, just in case, though. Carlock stressed that it would need to be a substantial order for them to fulfill the purchase.

The state of Indiana spent $200 million on PPE in 2020. According to the data CBS4 obtained, at least $384,651 of that was spent on hand sanitizer. Indiana shelled out more than $110,000 on wipes. It seems Indiana focused its spending on face masks, though. The state spent more than $49 million to purchase at least 27 million masks.

“Without the items we purchased, who knows where we would be today?” Bosso told CBS4. “We were able to open up safely because we had those items.”

The IEDC said it distributed the face masks to healthcare facilities, school districts and more than 31,000 businesses statewide, including Murphy’s Jewelers, Pulaski County Human Services, Caring Friends Daycare, Hair of the Dog in Carmel and Midwest Associates in Indianapolis.

Indiana’s Hospital Association sent CBS4 a statement regarding the distribution:

“The State, through both the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) and the Indiana Department of Health (IDOH), were tremendous partners in helping to source PPE at a time of global scarcity. The IDOH closely monitored hospitals’ supplies, and when some facilities experienced serious shortages, they sent gloves, gowns, masks, and more. In addition to that short-term relief, IEDC helped launch the manufacturing of N95 masks here in Indiana.”

“Retail, hospitality, restaurants included in hospitality, we prioritized them because they were dealing with people coming in dealing with customers, and like I said, you would go to certain places and you weren’t able to get masks that they needed,” Bosso explained.

CBS4 asked how much money IEDC has set aside to purchase PPE in 2021. The agency didn’t have an exact number to share, but officials said they were “confident they’d have all the resources needed to procure all needed PPE for 2021.”

The state said all of the money spent on PPE came from the CARES Act.

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