Stamford Health CEO, VP on how the system avoided supply shortages, how it’s preparing for another COVID-19 wave

Smaller, independent hospitals and health systems at times struggle to maintain adequate supplies because they have limited purchasing power compared to larger systems. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Stamford (Conn.) Health, viewed being an independent hospital as a benefit, as it helped the supply chain staff become more nimble and able to make decisions very quickly, according to Liz Longmore, RN, vice president of ambulatory services and COO of Stamford’s Medical Group.  

Ms. Longmore, along with Stamford Health CEO Kathleen Silard, RN, recently discussed with Becker’s how their health system responded to the supply chain challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and how the system is preparing for another surge. 

Ms. Longmore said that when COVID-19 hit, some vendors placed Stamford Health on allocation based on historic supply levels, which were “completely inadequate” to meet the health systems’ new supply needs. In response, the supply chain team diversified its approach and started looking to nontraditional methods of acquisition for critical supplies. 

As an example, Ms. Longmore said the hospital was able to secure a bulk order of hand sanitizer that was originally intended to be used in a marathon that had been canceled due to the pandemic. The team worked with its network of business connections to find nontraditional vendors, such as regulatory-approved office supply vendors, to source enough personal protective equipment for the staff. 

Stamford Health also created a PPE team, a team of licensed professionals trained in all aspects of PPE acquisition, and placed them in nursing units 24/7 to manage distribution of PPE and ensure healthcare providers were getting the correct type of equipment for the tasks they were doing. It was critical to the system’s management strategy, Ms. Longmore said.

Currently, one of the biggest supply challenges Stamford Health is dealing with surrounds testing supplies. 

“We’re still experiencing a real lack of predictability in the supply chain for procurement of test kits,” Ms. Longmore said. 

In response, Stamford Health has diversified the number of platforms it uses in its labs. It’s using point-of-care testing for diagnosis of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, but is also running more sophisticated platforms in the hospital’s labs. 

Every day, the supply chain team takes inventory of all of its testing supplies and procures supplies for each platform so it’s never dependent on a single vendor or historic allocation from a previous vendor. 

The health system has also used reference labs to load balance and prevent depletion of testing supplies, Ms. Longmore said. 

In preparation for another surge of COVID-19, Ms. Silard said the health system did a complete critical analysis of its early response to the virus. It documented everything it did to respond to the pandemic, and then the team came together to make a playbook on what to do if the number of COVID-19 cases returns to what was seen earlier. 

“Part of that planning has been to stockpile supplies we know were critical to our response,” Ms. Silard said. “We know going into the fall that we’re not just facing COVID-19, but normal respiratory illnesses we’re used to seeing.”

Change needs to happen at the legislative level to ensure the supply shortages hospitals have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic don’t happen again, Ms. Silard said.  

“America was not prepared for a pandemic,” Ms. Silard said. Being so dependent on one nation for so much of our supply chain is a big flaw in our system, she added. 

Stamford Health received supplies from federal and state stockpiles, but when those stockpiles were opened, they found that they hadn’t been maintained, and some of the supplies were expired and unusable. There is no system in the country to monitor the stockpiles to make sure they’re being replaced and maintained, Ms. Silard said. 

By not having a reliable national supply chain, hospitals are forced to maintain their own, but that may lead to everyone procuring everything they can for their own system, which would further strain the supply chain. 

There needs to be a national, systemic plan to deal with outbreaks and pandemics, Ms. Silard said.

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