A year ago, Hurricane Ian battered the Florida coast but bolstered Vizient’s approach to supply assurance. In the 12 months since, the evolved strategy has withstood some tough tests to help providers ensure uninterrupted patient care.
By Erin Cristales and Kayla Green, Vizient
Hurricane Ian, September 2022
Happy National Health Care Supply Chain Week to the providers and suppliers who always ensure the best possible patient outcomes even in the face of the toughest challenges.
In what could be another record-setting year (in all the wrong ways), the 2023 hurricane season arrived earlier, and more prolific, than expected.
While it’s typical to see a September peak, four storms had already formed within 48 hours in mid-August. Idalia, a category 3 hurricane, made landfall in the southeastern U.S. in late August, the largest of 11 named storms that developed before the month ended.
It’s hard to say what’s going to happen between now and the season’s November conclusion. But if you’re part of the healthcare ecosystem, it’s imperative to prepare accordingly — not just for natural disasters but for any potential crisis that could interrupt patient care.
“The question we ask is: How can we come together to help providers navigate whatever emergency situation they’re facing,” said Kylie Taylor, Vizient director of assurance.
A year ago — when Hurricane Ian struck southwestern Florida and the hospitals that call it home — Vizient leveled up its assurance approach with an emergency operations plan that included everything from 24-hour command centers and webinars that convened providers and suppliers to real-time communications that drew on increased collaboration and expertise across the enterprise.
In the 12 months since, those strategies have been continuously refined to ensure providers have what they need most: The gift of time.
“That is our North Star in everything we do,” said Kevin Johns, Vizient senior director of assurance. “Whether it’s condensing the time it takes to get communications out to our stakeholders from 36 hours to 20 minutes or manning our command center around the clock — it’s about gifting our providers the time they need to prepare and empower them to respond.”
That’s been particularly important this year, as numerous crisis (or near-crisis) situations emerged. Product and market disruptions — including concerns around China/Taiwan tensions, Yellow Corp.’s bankruptcy filing, and semiconductor chip and helium shortages — have continued to affect healthcare, with two events in particular receiving heavy focus: The damage caused to a North Carolina-based Pfizer plant in July and months-long labor contract talks between the Teamsters union and UPS, which many feared would result in a strike (thankfully, a deal was reached in August).
Here's a look at how a collaborative approach to assurance helped all stakeholders prepare for, and mitigate, the challenges surrounding both high-stakes events.
Weathering drug shortages: Mitigating the impacts of damages to a top Pfizer facility
When an EF-3 tornado struck the North Carolina Pfizer plant, questions whirled: What exactly was impacted? Where can we learn more? And perhaps most importantly given the new 10-year record high of 300-plus drugs in short supply — when will manufacturing resume?
After all, the Rocky Mount plant is one of the largest sterile injectable facilities in the world, with more than 1.4 million square feet of facility space on 250 acres in Eastern North Carolina. Additionally, nearly 25% of Pfizer's sterile injectables — which accounts for approximately 8% of all sterile injectables used in U.S. hospitals — are manufactured at this plant.
“We were managing so many drug shortages on a daily and weekly basis and when the tornado hit, it just felt catastrophic,” said Ann Byre, assistant vice president for pharmacy services at Allina Health. “It made me think back to after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, there was a greater push for integrating stateside redundancy into our plans, so when the tornado hit the Pfizer plant in North Carolina, it drove home just how challenging it can be to build in supply assurance redundancies.”
Within hours of the Pfizer tornado damage, Vizient’s Supply Assurance and Drug Shortage Rapid Response teams leaped into action, providing the Market Disruption Brief, which detailed the current conditions, Vizient’s response, distributor actions and recommendations for providers. Within 48 hours, a webinar was set up connecting more than 1,200 providers with a direct line to two Pfizer representatives and the most current information and resources:
- What exactly was impacted? The primary impact of the tornado was to the warehouse facility, which stores raw materials, packaging supplies and finished medicines awaiting release by quality assurance.
- Where can we learn more? Vizient hosted a webinar with Pfizer representatives, compiled a Market Disruption Brief with the most up to date information, and published a Supply Chain Disruption Report with a market analysis and mitigation strategies for select medications.
- When will manufacturing resume? Per a customer letter, Pfizer estimates production at the facility is expected to restart by Q4 2023.
The Supply Chain Disruption Report, which includes a market analysis of the subset of products provided by Pfizer with less than three months of inventory in the distribution channels as well as available mitigation strategies for several affected products, was sent to all providers.
“The webinar was very useful as Pfizer shared that the warehouse was the primary impact and that the production lines were okay, so that was extremely helpful in decreasing the tension,” said Matthew Wolf, senior pharmacy coordinator at Allina Health. “The Market Disruption Brief was a valuable resource to share with our leadership, and the Supply Chain Disruption Report helped us look ahead and strategize how to mitigate these challenges.”
Delivering expert advice: Helping providers navigate potential fallout from UPS/Teamsters contract talks
When Vizient announced a July webinar with FedEx, Owens & Minor and Cardinal HealthTM OptiFreight® Logistics, hundreds of providers jumped at the chance to join the call. They were, after all, sweating the possibility of a logistical nightmare: If UPS and the Teamsters union failed to reach a consensus in their contract labor talks, more than 340,000 UPS workers would likely strike — a devastating blow to the supply chain, as nearly 53% of the U.S. transport and logistics market is controlled by UPS.
To provide some much-need clarity (and potential strategies) to prepare for such an event, the Vizient team leaned into its strategic relationships with suppliers. If anyone could answer providers’ questions, it was the experts they had assembled.
In a crisis looming this large, more than one webinar was needed to accommodate the 500-plus interested providers, leading Vizient to schedule a second webinar a mere two hours after the first. And suppliers were happy to oblige — if ever there was a time for everyone to pull together, shouldn’t it be now?
“We’re very appreciative of the partnership that we have with Vizient, and we share a lot of common goals,” said Emily Gallo, senior vice president and general manager of OptiFreight® Logistics. “And one of those common goals is to ensure healthcare providers can deliver the best care possible. That means keeping them abreast of what's happening in the marketplace, it means sharing best practices for resiliency, and it means being a collective resource they can turn to during a crisis. We want them to feel like they have their arms around a situation and can act.”
Discussions included the possibility of converting to alternative carriers and helping providers understand the areas where they were most at risk. The U.S. economy largely weathered the last UPS strike in 1997, which lasted 15 days and involved 185,000 workers. But Anderson Economic Group estimated that today, a 10-day UPS strike would have likely resulted in worker wage losses of $1.1 billion and losses in excess of $4 billion for UPS customers.
That’s why part of the assurance strategy included setting up a Vizient Command Center to deal with provider concerns related to the labor talks, which was bolstered by the expertise of internal category managers. For example, Cynthia Hamm, Vizient senior category manager, helped to fuel the communications around the contract talks based on her knowledge of on- and off-contract suppliers and the potential impact to the market, as well as coordinate the webinars.
“Category management allows us to focus on developing deeper relationships within our categories,” she said, “which lets us reach out for that additional support when providers need it most.”
That’s exactly what enables the gift of time. OptiFreight® Logistics and Vizient, for example, first connected about the UPS contract talks in February to devise best practices to prepare customers. And while the crisis was ultimately averted, the collaborations created to mitigate it carry long-term impacts.
“The trust and goodwill that has been built means that when there’s an emergency,” said Caleb Jameson, vice president of enterprise contracting at Cardinal Health, “we’re all able to quickly come together to help.”