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Lawmaker ponders hawking state med equipment on eBay

Flickr/IFRCOne California lawmaker asked if the state should ship its mobile field hospital equipment to Haiti, where the Red Cross put them in use.

As the state copes with yet another massive budget shortfall, the once strange-sounding prospect of selling government goods on eBay has come up again.

Unlike the property sold off in the past – a leather jacket signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, used Highway Patrol cruisers, discarded desks and chairs –equipment for the state's emergency mobile field hospitals could wind up at auction or sold off.

The eBay idea emerged because Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed slashing $5.8 million [PDF] spent annually to maintain and store $166 million worth of hospital beds and medical equipment kept for use during a major disaster, such as an earthquake destroying a medical facility.

During an Assembly budget hearing last week, lawmakers pondered what to do if the state cannot scrape together the storage and maintenance fees for the equipment. Perhaps the National Guard or local emergency authorities could maintain it. Could Haiti or some country with pressing needs use it?

"It seems tragic, given all the need in the world, that it would be disposed of," said Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata.

Assemblyman William Monning, D-Carmel, added: “Even eBay – there may be people out there who could get a good deal on equipment at something less than the purchase price.”

That grim discussion came as lawmakers considered other potentially devastating cuts to health care services, including trimming state programs for people with AIDS, as well as cancer and kidney patients, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

As I wrote a few months back, some state hospitals have been assessed with collapse risks of 20 percent or greater. Those facilities are typically very close to a fault line and have major structural flaws. All face deadlines in two or four years to shore up major weaknesses.

In the event that one of them is knocked out of service by an earthquake, though, the state’s $166 million investment in equipment and “mobile field hospitals” could be rushed into service. Even with all hospitals standing, a major quake could create demand for the extra hospital beds.

If the budget cut is made, the state will save the annual cost of warehouse storage rent and equipment maintenance – in exchange for $166 million worth of medical supplies and mobile hospitals.

California is not the first state to consider selling goods on the Internet auction site. As of Friday, the state of Oregon had multiple bidders on arc welders, rifle stocks and backhoe buckets. Sarah Palin also famously claimed to have sold the Alaska state plane on eBay, but reporters later dug up the fact that it did not sell through the website.



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