The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it unprecedented demand for medical supplies, from protective personal equipment to ventilators. Early on, health systems struggled to keep their hospitals stocked amid high global demand and had to develop creative strategies to handle shortages.
Six supply chain executives from some of the top health systems in the country recently spoke with Becker’s Hospital Review about the supply chain challenges they still face almost seven months into the pandemic and gave advice to their peers facing similar situations.
Editor’s note: Responses were edited lightly for length and clarity.
Marisa Farabaugh, chief supply chain officer & Greg Strohs, corporate director of pharmacy services, AdventHealth (Altamonte Springs, Fla.): For AdventHealth, the biggest supply chain challenge currently surrounds preparing for the eventual release of COVID-19 vaccines. With multiple potential entrants in phase 3 trials right now, we have to make strategic and logistical decisions around the date of availability, manufacturer specifics, likely volumes available of each vaccine, storage requirements and the ordering processes for obtaining them. Because our system is large and spans several states, we also need awareness of the role the federal government and our multiple state governmental partners will play. Our system has convened an internal governance structure to plan for these variables. We are confident that we have the right engagement to meet these demands and will have a plan that allows us to care for our team members and patients in the communities we serve.
Chad Richard, supply chain vice president, Prisma Health (Columbia, S.C.): While Prisma Health has been highly successful at working outside of our traditional supply sources to find the products we needed for COVID-19 this year by adding a variety of suppliers and nontraditional sourcing mechanisms, we remain very concerned about the ability of domestic production of personal protective equipment to catch up with overseas production and to become competitively priced. For the healthcare supply chain to become more resilient in the future, the United States needs to increase its efficiency and ability to produce these products domestically as well as internationally. Additionally, for the U.S. healthcare supply chain to become more resilient long term, it will need to increase its resistance and recovery ability in times of crisis.
Scott Caldwell, CEO of the Resource Group, Ascension’s GPO (St. Louis): We have relied heavily on the infrastructure that we have built over the last 12 years and embraced teamwork, creativity and innovation to tackle unprecedented challenges. We live by the philosophy that you don’t need the ability to predict the future in order to prepare for it.
We have clear visibility into our operations and the capabilities to track exactly what supplies we have, where they are, and what we need at any given moment. This allowed us to swiftly relocate products around the country as hot spots emerged. Relying on the creativity and innovation of our teams, we explored new solutions and implemented them quickly. From 3D printing of test collection swabs to partnering with manufacturers both in and outside of healthcare to produce PPE, we empowered our people to take the actions necessary to meet the needs of our patients and caregivers.
While there is no simple solution to tackling these challenges, we are grateful that our unique model and structure allows for quick reaction and empowers our associates to innovate in support of others.
Ed Hisscock, senior vice president of supply chain management, Trinity Health (Livonia, Mich.): Three strategies continue to help Trinity Health in overcoming supply chain challenges. First, remain agile in how problem-solving is approached. For instance, we established relationships with outside, nontraditional sourcing channels early in the pandemic, such as our partnership with Detroit Sewn [a medical wear manufacturer]. In trying to find other sources for production, in line with CDC guidelines, to address some of the global supply challenges, we contacted sewing manufacturers in Michigan and worked with them to ensure they followed guidelines in developing their prototype.
Second, leverage long-standing relationships in new ways. In 2018, Trinity Health partnered with other national health systems in response to shortages and high prices of urgently needed generic drugs in the U.S. Civica Rx was able to assist us in obtaining much-needed medications that are specifically used in the care and treatment of COVID-19 patients, without the high costs associated with overseas manufacturing.
Third, prepare. In 2016, we built a distribution center in Fort Wayne, Ind., which gives us more direct control over the part of the supply chain that is typically managed by another company. In our ongoing battle with this virus, this has been invaluable to us in being able to quickly meet the varying needs of our 92 hospitals in 22 states. As cases surged in one part of the country or another, we are able to meet demand for PPE, medications and other equipment quickly through this strategically located, centralized system. Because of this, we were well-situated to respond to a pandemic.
Conrad Emmerich, senior vice president and chief purchasing officer of Atrium Health Materials Resource Management, president & CEO, Atrium Health Supply Chain Alliance (Charlotte, N.C.): I believe success in maintaining appropriate PPE levels during the pandemic is multifold. First, you must have constant communication between your team and your major suppliers of all PPE, regardless of them having any vulnerabilities now. Second, diversify your sources of critical supplies. Mitigate any potential risks by decentralizing any geographic reliance on manufacturing, subassembly, raw materials, active pharmaceutical ingredients, etc., for critical supplies and drugs. Next, monitor internal utilization closely and forecast usage of supplies. And finally, form close relationships with other health systems. Build trust and be transparent with what you need and what you have.
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