MORGAN COUNTY, Colo. — The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) denies it is to blame for a shipment of personal protective equipment (PPE) and disinfectant wipes that never made it to the Eben Ezer Lutheran Care Center in Morgan County.
"FEMA did not swoop in. Absolutely not. Now we’re trying to figure out what the vendor was told," said Lee dePalo, Regional Administrator for FEMA Region 8 which includes Colorado. "The term FEMA took it, FEMA stole it, FEMA swooped in, FEMA redirected are all used and that is simply not true."
DePalo said his agency first found out on Monday that a Connecticut company that promised a supply of disinfectant wipes for the senior care center blamed FEMA for redirecting the order.
The CEO of Eben Ezer, Shelly Griffith, told 9NEWS on Tuesday she was told by the vendor, Project Graphics, that FEMA redirected at least $750 worth of disinfectant wipes.
Project Graphics, a graphic design company that pivoted to selling PPE during the pandemic, said it took the order of gowns masks, and disinfectant wipes from Eben Ezer in mid-April.
Griffith said the order totaled about $15,000, with the wipes costing about $750.
After Project Graphics placed the order with its contact in China, it soon found out the wipes weren't going to be delivered.
"My source over there went to purchase the product and the availability that we had been told was there, we had been informed that no, the supply had been purchased by the U.S. government," said Greg McKim, the vice president of Project Graphics. "The product has been sold to FEMA is what they said."
McKim said he emailed Eben Ezer Lutheran Care Center to let them know the shipment wasn't coming.
"I did my best to communicate to the customer that we were unfortunately behind them in the procurement of it and bottom line I was unable to fulfill that part of the order for them," said McKim.
It is still unclear if FEMA placed an order of wipes from the same factory in China at the same time as McKim said he did.
FEMA said it is still investigating what happened to Eben Ezer’s wipes, but said it has no power to demand factories in China or elsewhere abroad sell to them over other customers.
"FEMA does not, cannot and will not demand production facilities in the People's Republic of China repurpose, requisition, or alter any pre-existing orders," wrote dePalo in a statement following the interview with 9NEWS. "FEMA simply places new orders to be fulfilled, and has no capability or authority to force production facilities in other sovereign nations to deny orders to individuals or companies."
While FEMA acknowledges federal government requirements are put ahead of other orders, the agency says it does not try to outbid other customers.
"In this particular case with Eben Ezer, I don’t know what the distributor overseas told the company in the United States. We don’t have that information yet," said dePalo. "Overseas vendors are saying no, we don’t have that, FEMA came in and took that when in fact they may be going to the highest bidder, they may have never had that, we don’t know."
While there are still a lot of questions that are unanswered, what we do know is that the senior care center in Morgan County where at least 19 have died never got its PPE.
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