On a Thursday morning early in the pandemic, Providence Senior Vice President and Chief Value Officer Jennifer Bayersdorfer and her team met with officials at Kaas Tailored to craft a way to work with the Mukilteo, Wash.-based upholstery manufacturer on personal protective equipment. By noon, Kaas had a basic face shield prototype on the production line.
The Seattle area was one of the first in the U.S. to be hit by the novel coronavirus, and Providence’s supply of PPE in hospitals caring for COVID-19 patients was at “critically low levels.” The medical supply chain relies heavily on China, where the virus originated, and was unable to keep pace with skyrocketing global demand.
“We knew that there was this demand that was impossible to meet through our traditional supply chain channels, yet there were no alternatives that were coming through at that point,” Bayersdorfer said.
As providers across the country—and globally—scrambled to track down enough PPE to protect employees and patients from the new viral enemy, the coronavirus wreaked havoc on the medical supply chain, creating an acute shortage of face masks, respirators, gloves and gowns. Faced with rising cases and a shrinking PPE supply, providers started looking beyond traditional outlets. The support from small and large domestic manufacturers was overwhelming; so out of necessity industry and healthcare providers together created what could become new long-term supply chains.
“At the beginning, we felt like we were going to need the crafting circles of America to get through this,” Bayersdorfer said.
Building on its relationship with Kaas, Providence created the 100 Million Mask Challenge, urging individuals, businesses and manufacturers to help supply PPE for the medical field. After seeing offers to help flood in, Providence handed the reins over to the American Hospital Association to manage the challenge nationally.
Though most hospitals were able to scrape together enough supplies through innovative channels, the scramble raised questions about how to create a more sustainable procurement process. As the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Pete Gaynor, recently told lawmakers, the country’s healthcare supply chain is not out of the woods.
“The traditional supply chain is still far from restored. I think that this has pointed to a need to diversify much more, especially as we just look at the lack of domestic capacity to manufacture these things,” Bayersdorfer said. “I think the downsides of globalism have reared their head during this pandemic.”