In the first nationwide assessment of how hospitals are coping with the pandemic, the agency found that hospitals are grappling with serious COVID-19 testing supply shortages and long wait times for test results. They're also dealing with shortages of personal protective equipment, ventilators, medical gas, toilet paper, linens, food and other essential supplies.
"Hospitals reported that changing and sometimes inconsistent guidance from federal, state and local authorities posed challenges and confused hospitals and the public," HHS' OIG said in its report.
On top of that, the pandemic is overwhelming bed capacity and straining hospital budgets.
"When patient stays were extended while awaiting test results, this strained bed availability, personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies, and staffing," the agency wrote.
Hospitals told HHS' OIG that they're increasingly "turning to new, sometimes un-vetted, and non-traditional sources of supplies and medical equipment" to get the equipment and supplies they need to deliver care, including PPE.
They're also training additional staff to use equipment like ventilators and triaging patients with less severe symptoms to makeshift facilities in empty college dorms, fairgrounds and other locations. Hospitals are also helping their staff access childcare and laundry services, among other things.
HHS' OIG found that health systems need more help with tests, supplies and equipment; workforce flexibility; bed capacity; financial assistance; and centralized communication and information, including more and better data about the virus.
The agency based its findings on interviews with hospital administrators that took place March 23-27. The administrators represented 323 hospitals in 46 states.
Both Congress and the Trump administration have acted to address each of the issues outlined in the report. And while additional regulatory flexibilities for states and providers have helped, important issues like funding, staffing and supply shortages are still widespread, and federal aid isn't coming fast enough.