“I don’t know if we will ever get back to normal, or what that will look like, which is why Vizient is looking at ways to modify our contracting strategies to reflect changes in the global marketplace and to continue to provide significant benefit to members.” — Cristina Indiveri, senior director, program services, Vizient

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, hospitals across the U.S. were deluged with coronavirus patients, and PPE and other supplies were running low. In such a constrained market, Vizient members had trouble locating quality products from trusted manufacturers to make up shortages. Nitrile exam gloves were especially in high demand and some hospitals had less than a week’s supply of gloves on their shelves, which was unprecedented.

Vizient had been holding discussions with Sri Trang, a large exam glove producer headquartered in Thailand, to join the Novaplus Enhanced Supply program for members. When Sri Trang officials heard that some Vizient member hospitals needed additional supply, they immediately shipped gloves from their U.S. warehouses to those hospitals.

“Sri Trang was one of the unsung heroes during that time,” said Cristina Indiveri, senior director, program services, at Vizient. “They wanted to ensure that our members had the high-quality products they needed, even if those hospitals had not purchased from them before. So, at the height of an incredibly volatile and constrained market, we learned we could rely on Sri Trang as a partner for our members so that they had supply assurance when they were doing everything possible to provide for their patients.”

Fast forward to August 2021, Vizient and Sri Trang announced an agreement to provide chemo-tested nitrile exam gloves as part of the Novaplus Enhanced Supply program. Under that agreement, as with other suppliers in the program, the glove maker is required to maintain 90 days’ worth of glove inventory within the U.S. to mitigate any supply disruption and surge in demand—not just because of a pandemic but also because of natural disasters or other events that could impact supplies.

Going above and beyond by building a glove factory in the U.S.

Because of the necessity of exam gloves for members, Vizient was looking for a factory-direct relationship with a trusted partner. To that end, Sri Trang has plans to build a nitrile glove manufacturing facility, distribution center and warehouse, and administrative complex in the U.S. with the production of 2.5 billion nitrile gloves annually after the first full year of operations. The exact location has not been announced, but the company said the factory will be operating within a year-and-a-half to two years.

In terms of quality, price and supply assurance, having a partnership with a domestic glove factory will be a huge advantage, according to Gene Byerly, senior program services manager, Vizient. He points out the many supply disruptions that are occurring today with overseas manufacturers because of delays in unloading and inspecting shipping containers at the port. So, having a domestic producer helps to diversify the supply chain, supporting supply assurance.

Established in 1987, Sri Trang’s operations span all sectors of the natural rubber industry, from rubber plantations and rubber processing to glove production. Currently, Sri Trang has 10 glove manufacturing facilities on three campuses in Thailand which produce 35 billion disposable glove pieces each year with exports to more than 160 countries globally.

“This will be the first U.S. factory location for Sri Trang, and other suppliers are also looking into a domestic footprint for exam gloves,” says Indiveri.

She says the factory-direct relationship is a cornerstone of supply assurance, and Vizient is interested in other manufacturers that are considering creating a domestic footprint.

How Vizient members can get involved

Indiveri says to benefit from the agreement with Sri Trang, members only need to make a modest purchase commitment for 12 months.

“In order to ensure supply availability and help the company prepare for future production levels, a member does have to make a monthly commitment, but it could be for any quantity. We’re not asking for 90 percent of a member’s exam gloves. That’s one of the positive aspects of this.  Other group purchasing organizations or manufacturers often demand high product commitments and for several years,” she says.

This, and all of the Novaplus Enhanced Supply offerings can be found in the Vizient catalog, and Indiveri says all members need to do is click the “enroll” button and answer a few short questions. “After that,” she says, “it’s very simple for anyone to get the highest quality chemo-tested nitrile exam gloves through this program.”

Novaplus is Vizient’s private label program, which focuses on industry-best pricing, high-quality products and the knowledge that products have been vetted through Vizient. The program is available to all Vizient members at no additional charge. Novaplus began in 1985 and it continues to be the industry’s number-one private label brand.

A “new normal” for health care supply chain

Disruptions related to the pandemic continue in the supply chain today, now being felt via transportation delays and increased prices. Indiveri says, “The average time it takes to get a package from Asia to the U.S. has increased by 43% since 2020.” Also, some overseas plants are not running at full capacity because of COVID outbreaks among workers.

“I don’t know if we will ever get back to normal, or what that will look like, which is why Vizient is looking at ways to modify our contracting strategies to reflect changes in the global marketplace and to continue to provide significant benefit to members,” adds Indiveri. “The agreement with Sri Trang, especially with its future U.S. manufacturing facility, is an example of the type of supply, quality and price assurance we are working to offer to our members so that they can depend on getting the products they need to care for their patients.”

Published: November 15, 2021