Federal authorities are investigating a Pennsylvania company after the masks it sold to the Cleveland Clinic turned out to be faulty

Cleveland Clinic scammed out of $1.8 million for faulty masks

October 26, 2021
by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter
A Pennsylvania company is under investigation for sending more than 400,000 fake N95 masks to the Cleveland Clinic last year, which paid $1.8 million for the faulty products.

The clinic made the discovery after distributing more than 50,000 masks to healthcare workers, when some who were working on high-risk wards earlier this year tested positive. The company, Q2 Solutions, was identified as a third-party provider that sold the masks to the Cleveland Clinic. It operates several retail websites selling PPE, according to a filing by federal prosecutors in the U.S. District Court in Cleveland.

The prosecutors are requesting that the judge allow the government to seize the counterfeit masks shipped to Cleveland. “The investigation indicates that Q2 Solutions may have sold counterfeit PPE to at least 20 medical facilities,” they said in the filing.

Q2 Solutions’ attorney Keith Gregory says the company denies the allegations, but that the federal investigation prevented him from commenting further, reported Cleveland.com.

The company is also accused of sending boxes of faulty masks to hospitals in Connecticut and Delaware. According to Cleveland.com, Homeland Security agents receiving word in December that Nanticoke Memorial Hospital in Delaware received 35,000 N95 surgical masks from Q2 Solutions for $164,500. N95s must meet standards from the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and filter 95% of airborne particles.

Employees there complained that the masks did not fit and had “the smell of oil or chemical” in them. Administrators reached out to the manufacturer, 3M Innovative Properties Co., which determined the masks were fake. Federal agents say that Q2 Solutions also lied to the hospital about doing business with other hospitals, including ones in Tennessee and North Carolina.

The Cleveland Clinic reported a similar experience. It said that a Q2 Solutions employee had emailed it about the sale and that when it requested proof of authenticity, the company sent video and photographs of a warehouse filled with N95 masks. The clinic placed four orders for a total of 100,080 masks and paid $440,352 for the first shipment and $450,360 for each of the next three. But nurses in January noticed the masks did not fit well and were too small. When the clinic contacted 3M, it said the masks were bogus based on their improper printing and packing and physical appearance.

The healthcare system took immediate steps to remove the counterfeit masks from its hospital and replace them with authentic ones, but says through August, that it was not repaid by Q2 Solutions. “We continue to work with authorities on their investigation and remain committed to helping prevent healthcare-related fraud,” the clinic said in a statement Wednesday.

The clinic did not inform law enforcement of employees becoming ill with COVID-19 while using the masks, and it is unknown how federal agents obtained that information. Federal officials say Q2 Solutions also shipped more than 65,000 masks to Stamford Hospital in Connecticut earlier this year for $317,340. They seized 535 boxes of the masks in March, according to the filings.

A Premier report back in April found that meeting demands for PPE like masks was still a challenge, despite a slow recovery in supplies. Researchers attributed the cause to a supply chain imbalance created by massive increases in global PPE demand, which drove up raw material prices. This, in turn, impacted the cost of finished goods and led providers to add on additional costs to their already strained margins.

3M said on its website that it has received nearly 16,000 reports of fraud and that law enforcement has seized more than 55 million counterfeit masks. A number of scams involving fraudulent PPE have been uncovered this year. A Massachusetts hospital worker back in April saved frontline physicians from potential exposure when he found that tens of thousands of N95 surgical masks he had ordered were counterfeit after examining the labeling on them.

The City of Houston did not fare as well in June when it was swindled out of roughly $1.7 million that it spent on more than 900,000 defective masks. While federal authorities seized the funds paid for the faulty masks from the company that sold them to the city, the money was not returned, despite a request.