by Judi Proctor
Sr. Consultant, Supply Chain Operations
08/17/20

COVID-19 has put the health care supply chain at the forefront of every discussion in all organizations. From a supply chain perspective, we have long sought to increase the value of our work and establish the supply chain as a strategic driver of hospital operations. COVID-19 has accomplished this in a very short period of time. 

When the light was directed at the supply chain department, was it the limelight or a spotlight? Was the right plan in place for this pandemic? Was there immediate action that could be taken based on the emergency operations plan (EOP)? Was there a short-term EOP that would give visibility to all supplies and resources? Was there a long-term plan specifically designed to address the situation by minimizing the disruption of supplies and resources during this pandemic? 

Many EOPs are based on the natural disasters we may face related to our geographic locations. In the south it’s hurricanes, for America’s heartland it’s tornadoes and on the West coast it’s earthquakes. Then there are man-made events, such as cyberattacks, explosions, and other events that impact people and hospitals. These are just a few of the disasters that supply chains must prepare for.

However, the language used by The Joint Commission for every EOP is an “all hazards” approach, which includes incidents of short and long duration, such as a 90-car pile-up on the interstate, a hurricane or a pandemic. The 2019 National Health Security Preparedness Index rated the U.S. at a 6.7 out of 10, a 3.1% improvement over the previous year. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, catching everyone off guard. We need to rethink our preparedness plans and moreover, we need to rethink our supply chain and its ability to handle a disaster or a disastrous pandemic.

Supply chains must have a methodology that addresses all scenarios within its portion of the organization’s EOP. This begins with a risk assessment that includes all types of disasters and their potential to occur. From there the supply chain plan must identify the critical supplies and resources required for each grouping of events.

  1. Have short- and long-term action items. The recommendation is to start with a plan that focuses on immediate action, first 96 hours, what do we need to do now? Moving on to short term, what do we need to do after the first 96 hours? Then attention must turn to the development of a long-term situational plan, asking the question, what does the future of this situation look like? Each scenario should be developed in a manner that uses a multidisciplinary approach for planning and workflows created for an “all hazards” EOP. 

Each plan should provide for:

a. effectiveness and protection of the caregiver to provide support to the patient

b. recognition of the potential for supply and resource disruptions to minimize the impact

c. and assurance that will not over burden the financial solvency of the organization.

  1. Build in all aspects.

If this pandemic has taught supply chain anything, it is that all aspects of your EOP should be built into every sector of your department. Start with contracting and structure of agreements, such as including supply chain resilience into your memorandum of understanding; your supplier must have a vested interest in your plan. Next, do you have the ability to visualize all supply locations throughout the organization either directly or by the periodic automatic replenishment listing? Do you have a separate disaster inventory that is rotated on a routine basis? Disaster inventories and internal supply levels are areas that should be core competencies for supply chain, however, it should not be the only strategy for a plan based on a long-term scenario or event.

Once all questions are answered, move on to “what does supply chain do well, what is our core competency” and “what do our suppliers handle more effectively and efficiently than our supply chain team?” Balance your supply chain EOP between your organization’s strengths and your supplier’s strengths, both tactically and financially. Areas to consider include distribution throughout the organization, inventory responsibility and bulk purchase strategy. Look for and develop collaboration with other organizations within your geographic region and another one outside of your geographic region. Be innovative, creative and look outside of the box for new solutions to the problems you will be faced in implementing your EOP.

  1. Test and evaluate.

The EOP is not a paper process. You do not write all the policies, procedures and workflows just for the purpose of having them on file when The Joint Commission or DNV GL come in to monitor regulatory compliance. Your EOP should be tested and evaluated repeatedly and revised according to the outcomes of those tests at the very least, on an annual basis.

Remember a plan is only as good as when and how it’s activated, so have a plan for that too.

Always keep in mind when working on your EOP that lives are at stake and the ability to get supplies and resources to the caregivers is instrumental in preserving those lives. It took a pandemic to shine a light on how vital a supply chain is to clinical effectiveness and patient care. When that light shines on your organization’s supply chain, make sure it reveals the preparation for disasters that may come.

About the author. Judi Proctor brings more than 30 years of experience exclusively in health care supply chain at an executive director level. She leads initiatives in supply chain optimization, supply and inventory automation, strategic sourcing, value analysis and operational cost improvements.  She holds the designation of Certified Materials Resource Professional from AHRMM and is a Master Instructor in Process Management. Her educational background is in Finance with a Masters in both Business Administration and Health Law.