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What could we have done differently? PPE supply chain lessons from COVID-19

by Valerie Dimond, Contributing Reporter | June 01, 2020
Business Affairs Risk Management
From the May 2020 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine


“Regardless of the disaster, there will always be things that are a must-have,” Stepp continued. “Gloves, masks, gowns and face shields will ALWAYS be a priority for safe patient and environment handling. Every hospital should have a temperature-controlled storage building to store these supplies in a cache. Manage them as part of your inventory, monitor and swap out as needed. Nobody could have foreseen this scale of shortages but having a month’s worth in storage would be worth the $100 per month for the storage fee.”

Also, distributors need to be more transparent about supplies and contracting — whether done in-house or via intermediaries — and should be multi-sourced by different countries and manufacturers, according to Eugene Schneller, department of supply chain management at W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

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“There is a need to manage risks in a comprehensive risk program and fully understand Tier 1, 2 and 3 suppliers, as today’s manufacturing is a huge web of companies,” said Schneller. “Hospitals scrambling independently for PPEs is one sign that collaborative purchasing is not a significant partner in something as big as this pandemic. GPOs need to work with members to reestablish some nature of communal value — beyond price, through consolidation of spend.”

Soto takes the position that although GPOs may try to help, providing instructive webinars and emails, their efforts are of little value in a crisis when the thing that makes the most difference is actual boots on the ground.

And Collins said, “I would hope that especially going into the fall and the unknown of a secondary outbreak, that our distribution partners will maintain higher levels in their vast warehouses. As a for- profit hospital, it is always about inventory turns so we manage very tightly. But we have all learned quickly that it is difficult to operate a hospital without PPE. I think we have also learned that we need to better understand what our distribution partners are doing and what they keep on hand.”

In this together
Despite how different healthcare systems procure, distribute, and use their supplies, one action that that should remain universal across the landscape is cooperation, understanding and respect for people in all departments involved.

“Supply chain should never practice medicine!” asserted Schneller. “Supply chain can assure that products are equivalent — and can set up processes to collaborate with clinicians. We need more clinicians in ‘linking-pin roles’ where they have a foot in both worlds — and can fully represent their colleagues’ needs and concerns.

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