Back in March 2020, America shut down as the rapidly spreading SARS-CoV-2 virus led to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, we all thought it would only take two weeks to “flatten the curve.” Today, some two years later, the virus continues to wax and wane and the business of doing business (along with the people who support those businesses) are still feeling the impact of a virus that won’t go away.

While many businesses closed or reduced hours, hospitals remained open and quickly became overwhelmed with seriously ill patients, exacerbated as the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies to protect caregivers and treat patients dwindled. PPE supply assurance was in question.

COVID-19 exacerbated a historical weakness in the U.S. health care supply chain—a lack of transparency and predictability between suppliers and providers. “Shortages were everywhere,” said Margaret Steele, senior vice president, med surg, Vizient. “PPE, facial protection, gloves, shoe covers, N95 respirators, ventilators and tubing were all in short supply. It was like managing a war of hotspots all over the U.S.”

Vizient supply assurance goes into action

­­Shortly after business shutdowns began, Vizient recognized the ripple effect caused by a growing pandemic along with historically low supply inventory and worked to find solutions to members’ growing supply shortages. That crisis response effort included 70+ individuals from across the organization identifying, elevating and resolving members’ needs. “At the height of the pandemic, this team was fielding more than 1,000 emails a week,” says Steele. Vizient leveraged its relationships, expertise, data, communications and capital to innovate and respond to the urgent needs of our member hospitals and the country (see sidebar).

What began as a crisis response has evolved into the Vizient Supply Assurance Services program, a long-term effort to develop strategies to assure members that supply needs will never again be severely disrupted.

Ensuring long-term supply assurance

Supply resilience is an ongoing journey. The lessons learned during the initial COVID surge provided valuable insight to manage the challenges of one virus variant after another.

“Through the Supply Assurance Services, we’re working to help equip our member hospitals and their health care workers on the front lines with the critical medical and pharmaceutical supplies, insights, expertise and clinical-leading practices they need to deliver outstanding care to their communities,” says Kevin Johns, senior director, supply assurance, Vizient.

The work spans four main pillars:

  • Supply chain insights—monthly publications and webinars, supply risk solutions, supplier transparency, a 3rd party economist study, contracted with medical device product engineers to evaluate raw materials included in many products
  • Supply access—category management, assurance T&C, programs such as Novaplus Enhanced Supply and Made in the USA, aggregation groups, diversity and community contracting
  • Supply chain enablement—best practices, disaster response, category management, conservation strategies, cross references to support alternative product choices
  • Advocacy and collaboration—FDA weekly meetings, White House briefings, lobbying, industry associations

Through more streamlined and functional processes, the program monitors access to manufacturing both in the U.S. and in other countries, supply needs along with securing supply, stockpiled inventory, and response to hotspot areas.

Member education also becomes a vital component for supply assurance. “Our value is as an extension of our members’ supply chain teams,” said Steele, who oversees Johns and the Supply Assurance Services team. “The dynamics have changed, too. Now, these teams are learning about transportation issues, port backups, inflation, lack of raw materials and staff shortages. It’s not just fighting COVID, but a much broader dynamic.”

“The focus of these insights is really about keeping members up to speed on what’s happening in the world,” Johns said. “Supplier transparency is a critical component, and quite frankly, it’s been lacking throughout this pandemic. Cross-referencing supply is also extremely valuable to our members, and we’ve been able to achieve that despite ongoing disruption.”

“We want members to know they are not alone,” Steele said. “Opting into our supply assurance program gets members committed supply. We’ve invested a lot and are better prepared with supply now, yet the broader responsibility as a company is joining together with our members to ensure we maintain business continuity in all aspects of providing patient care.”

Learn more about Vizient’s Supply Assurance Services by emailing Vizient’s Kevin Johns. Additional information is available online about Vizient’s supply chain solutions, COVID-19 resources and resiliency and recovery (members only).

Published: February 24, 2022