HAP Blog

Does Your Supply Chain Need a Risk Assessment?

How your hospital emergency managers assess supply chain risk

August 16, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged our health care system in many ways, but it also has reinforced important lessons about supply chains.

Even before COVID-19, hospitals worked tirelessly to become efficient in their supply chain management. It’s easy to take for granted everything that happens at our local hospitals, but look at their supply chains and you’ll see a complex network of suppliers for everything from food and gloves to masks and surgical equipment, among countless other critical items.

Hospital risk managers and emergency management (EM) teams play an important role in this process, anticipating demands and challenges, while evaluating the available space within their facilities.

There are many strategies to manage supply chains, but we know that we need to be flexible to address changing conditions (like a global pandemic), and that we need to manage risk. Before COVID-19, we saw an emphasis on Lean processes that prioritize the reduction of waste in the workplace. A core aspect of the Lean process is a “just-in-time” supply chain model where supplies are kept on hand for a few days and constantly replenished with small, frequent deliveries.

A Lean concept comes with important value-added benefits:

  • A decrease in the amount of outdated supplies:  Items are quickly moved from storage to utilization in patient care
  • An increase in effective utilization of hospital space:  Some have been able to transform areas that once served as storage into areas for patient care

The system worked flawlessly—until the global pandemic arrived during March 2020.

Suppliers switched from Lean, methodical manufacturing to meet their contracts, to ramping up production to unprecedented levels. And on top of that, new customers opened accounts to obtain those same highly regarded items for their businesses. The general public added another layer of demand, purchasing the same supplies to protect themselves. 

This onslaught of demand interrupted a once seamless, refined process and stretched supply chains to their breaking point. Suppliers could not meet the exponential increase in demand and end-users were left with a trickling supply stream to meet a flood of patients.

Hospitals found ways to source necessary supplies in unconventional ways. Some were able to issue an unmet needs request to a local or state agency. Others went outside of their traditional suppliers to increase their inventory. Still others simply went to the local hardware store in search of personal protective equipment (PPE).

As this pandemic has gone on, supplies now are coming back to more conventional strategies of procurement and utilization. So I guess it is back to the old way of doing things…right?

Supply chain management continues to evolve, and we know we must adapt accordingly. Regulatory and legislative changes may be a part of this process, as California has mandated hospitals to keep a designated quantity of PPE on hand, and it is possible others may follow suit.

The good news is that hospitals have a proven approach to assess their readiness and prepare for future events. Risk assessments allow facilities to determine their level of risk, the impact of an event, and the necessary changes they need to implement for patient and staff safety.

Better yet, the experts already exist within your organization. Risk managers, patient safety officers, and emergency managers have training and expertise to manage these types of assessments.

Lean on these individuals and tools to assist your teams, and you can have confidence that your supply chain will be ready to adapt for any emergency.

HAP’s emergency management team is ready to support hospitals in preparedness for emergent or other situations. For more information, contact meor another member of HAP’s emergency management team.

Related: See “COVID-19 Has Disrupted Global Supply Chains: Three Tips to Help,” HAP’s January 5, 2021, blog post for more information about supply chain preparedness issues and how HAPevolve may be able to help.

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