BREWSTER – Three Rivers and North Valley hospitals were among 40 hospitals in Washington to receive counterfeit N95 masks.
Mid-Valley Hospital, Omak, is not among those that did.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a fraud alert Feb. 5 about hundreds of thousands of fake masks that went to the Washington State Hospital Association as part of a shipment of two million masks sent in December. Hospitals, medical facilities and government agencies in at least five states were sold the counterfeit masks.
The association said the masks were purchased by hospitals and the association to distribute to members. More than $1 million was spent.
Three Rivers received 31 boxes of counterfeit masks, with 20 masks to the box, said Jennifer Best, business development coordinator and spokeswoman for the hospital.
“We don’t believe any of the counterfeit masks were used, because we hadn’t conducted fit testing for them yet with the staff,” she said. “Each employee who would need to wear N95 masks gets a fit test for each brand to determine which size is right for them.”
She said the hospital did not pay for the masks, so a refund won’t be necessary. The Washington State Hospital Association is seeking more real N95 masks to replace the counterfeits.
It’s not known whether the counterfeits are as effective as true N95 masks, the association said.
“The only difference we noticed was that everything on the outside of the box was Chinese, but by looking at the masks themselves, they were indistinguishable from the other real N95s we have,” Best said.
She said the hospital sticks with a specific list of trusted vendors to avoid that type of issue, and 3M is among the vendors.
Homeland Security said 3M alerted it to the problem.
The counterfeit masks were not made by the company, said the hospital association.
“Given the fact that these counterfeits looked so close to real N95s, I can see how a mistake could have been made in the effort to get more (personal protective equipment) to our health care workers,” Best said.
In Tonasket, North Valley Hospital CEO John McReynolds said his facility received more than 5,000 of them.
“North Valley was among the hospitals that received counterfeit N95 masks,” McReynolds said. “We had received over 5,000 and fortunately, the vast majority of them were never used.”
He said he did not have the exact number, but “we believe at least some were used before were notified of the issue.”
Mid-Valley Hospital did not receive any of the fake masks, said Executive Assistant Megan Barton.
“This issue impacts dozens of hospitals across the state and the supply of hundreds of thousands of N95 masks,” said the hospital association. “It is reprehensible that counterfeiters are selling fake masks, especially during a time when these resources are desperately needed to ensure staff safety.”
The association said it was told by 3M that delivery of a million masks ordered by the association will be accelerated, and the supply will be offered for free to Washington hospitals. Facilities most in need will get priority.
Best said Three Rivers began searching for N95 masks in January 2020, before the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States.
“Even then, we weren’t able to order any,” she said. “I’ve gotten calls from community members asking where they can purchase N95 masks, and to my knowledge there isn’t a reliable source for the general public.”
People who want extra protection can follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation to double up on masks, which reduces the chance of transmission to about 5 percent when good hand hygiene and physical distancing are added, Best said.