New York Department of Health paid $69.1 million to a Silicon Valley engineer in a bid to promote the arrival of ventilators to hospitals across the United States after the White House explicitly recommended the move, but not a single ventilator has arrived, BuzzFeed News reported on Wednesday.
On March 27, President Donald Trump urged Ford and General Motors to immediately begin making ventilators, as coronavirus patients began flooding hospitals across the United States,
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“START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
One of the thousands of people responding to Trump’s tweet was Yaron Oren-Pines, an electrical engineer who immigrated to the United States in the 1990's. Oren-Pines is a specialist in cellphone technology, and lacks any apparent experience in government contracting or knowledge in medical devices.
“We can supply ICU ventilators, invasive and noninvasive. Have someone call me URGENT,” Oren-Pines replied to Trump's tweet.
Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order to promote the arrival of ventilators to hospitals as soon as possible.
On March 30, New York State paid Oren-Pines $69.1 million for 1,450 ventilators — at a $47,656 per ventilator, at least triple the standard retail price of top-notch models.
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But Oren-Pines never provided a single ventilator.
A state official speaking on condition of anonymity said New York reached out to Oren-Pines after the White House coronavirus task force explicitly recommended it to do so.
New York terminated the contract almost a month later, and the state is currently investing efforts to claim back the money it paid Oren-Pines. The sum the state has so far managed to recover remains unknown. “We are in discussions on a few remaining issues,” said Heather Groll, a spokesperson for the New York Office of General Services.
Oren-Pines told BuzzFeed News that “neither I nor my company is providing any comment on this,” while refusing to respond to ant further questions on the matter.
“We had no choice but to overturn every rock to find ventilators and other needed equipment,” said Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Cuomo.
“States were forced to fend for themselves to purchase lifesaving supplies to combat a global pandemic and with all modeling showing a more severe spread of this virus with more hospitalizations and more fatalities,” Azzopardi said.
It remains unclear how Oren-Pines came to the attention of the White House coronavirus task force. Trump attends the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, which includes updates on medical supplies like N95 masks, gowns, and other much-needed medical equipment around the country.
“The guy was recommended to us by the White House coronavirus task force because they were doing business with him as well,” said the New York state official. “I think everyone was genuinely trying to help each other out and get supplies.” The official added that he was unaware of whether a federal contract was signed with Oren-Pines, but federal databases have no record of such a deal.
After BuzzFeed News reported on the matter, a spokesperson for Vice President Mike Pence, Katie Miller, said in a statement that "The White House Coronavirus Task Force was never informed of this contract and was not involved in it at all."