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Supply chain lessons from the pandemic

by Lisa Chamoff, Contributing Reporter | May 20, 2022
Baptist Health Care's corporate office
From the May 2022 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

COVID-19 showed that the supply chain is the lifeblood of a hospital system during a pandemic. DOTmed spoke with John Finger, system director of corporate supply chain operations for Baptist Memorial Health Care in Tennessee about how COVID-19 has impacted hospital supply chain in general, the lessons learned at Baptist Memorial and the best path forward.

HCB News: Can you tell us a bit about Baptist Memorial's early experience of the pandemic? When did you realize this was going to be a crisis?
John Finger: We started sniffing the wind back in January of 2020. We were getting some feelings that something was about to hit, but we didn't realize it was going to come on so fast and to such a great extent. Because we were totally slammed by mid-March.

What protected us, to some extent, was back in January, when we started getting signals that something bad was on the way, we kind of jumped out there ahead of that curve and went ahead and placed some good bulk orders on all of our PPE.

We thought we were in good shape because back there in the last crisis, we'd already bulked up on N95 masks and had them stored off-site in our warehouse. Well, we learned a lesson. We went to access those masks for COVID, but they'd been sitting in a hot warehouse for three-and-a-half years and they had dry rotted. So, that was our wake-up call. We started reaching out to our distributors, but they couldn't help us, because as soon as COVID hit, they were also placed on allocation from the manufacturers.

When they first told us they're going to place us on allocation, I thought, “That's all right. We just can’t increase our usage.” Well, that doesn't work when you have a pandemic. Plus, the allocation methodology was 70% of your pre-COVID usage. So they were cutting our products by 30%, and we’re getting slam-dunked by the explosion in the number of patients due to COVID. It was a train wreck from day one.

HCB News: What are some of the main lessons you've learned through the pandemic?
JF: Obviously, the first one is if you're going to bulk up on emergency supplies like that, don’t let it sit in a hot, dry warehouse for several years and rot away.

Another lesson we learned is don't depend on your distributor to be there for you. You better have a plan B. In this case [we were] dealing with the brokers getting stuff directly from China.

HCB News: Has COVID-19 given supply chain a louder voice in hospital leadership? If so, how?
JF: Yes, it definitely did, because all of a sudden, the light was shone upon us to fix this. In other words: you got this pandemic. Do whatever is necessary to make sure we have the product we need.

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