Coronavirus: New York paid engineer $69m for ventilators after he tweeted at Trump, but they never arrived

“We can supply ICU Ventilators, invasive and noninvasive. Have someone call me URGENT,” Yaron Oren-Pines wrote

Danielle Zoellner
Thursday 30 April 2020 17:48 BST
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Trump dismisses calls governors' calls for ventilators

New York state paid a Silicon Valley engineer $69m for ventilators after the man tweeted at Donald Trump, but the machines were never delivered, according to a Buzzfeed News report.

Yaron Oren-Pines, who has no background in medical supplies, claimed he could make ventilators when responding to a tweet from Mr Trump on 27 March that read Ford and General Motors should “START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!”

“We can supply ICU Ventilators, invasive and noninvasive. Have someone call me URGENT,” the engineer responded.

He was then paid $69.1m from New York for 1,450 ventilators — an astounding $47,656 per ventilator — which is at least triple the standard retail price for the respiratory machine.

The state has since terminated the contract after the engineer failed to provide a single ventilator.

“A bulk of the money was returned to the state,” Heather Groll, a spokesperson for the New York Office of General Services said. She did not clarify how much money had yet to be returned.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force recommended Mr Oren-Pines to New York, according to an unnamed source interviewed by Buzzfeed.

“The White House Coronavirus Task Force was never informed of this contract and was not involved in it at all,” Katie Miller, a spokesperson for Vice President Mike Pence, told the publication.

The payment to Mr Oren-Pines was the single largest made by the New York’s Department of Health after governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order on 7 March that would streamline the state receiving necessary medical equipment.

Prior to the executive order, the state would wait to receive the supplies before paying the company providing them.

“We had no choice but to overturn every rock to find ventilators and other needed equipment,” Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Mr Cuomo, told the publication.

New York became the epicentre of the coronavirus in March as hospitals became inundated with Covid-19 cases. Since the virus attacks the upper respiratory system, a lack of ventilators became a concern in the state and other parts of the US.

“States were forced to fend for themselves to purchase lifesaving supplies to combat a global pandemic and with all modelling showing a more severe spread of this virus with more hospitalisations and more fatalities,” Mr Azzopardi added.

Hospitalisations have since declined in the state and acquiring ventilators are no longer a concern.

When reached by Buzzfeed, Mr Oren-Pines said: “Neither me nor my company is providing any comment on this.”

The Independent contacted New York’s Office of General Service for a comment.

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