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A look inside Utah's COVID-19 PPE supply chain

Posted at 10:36 PM, May 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-31 01:20:39-04

Hospitals across the country had to get creative this past year with the pandemic in order to keep up with the demand for supplies and critical personal protective equipment (PPE).

Weathering the storm of the pandemic was no easy task for any health care facility, but this supply chain warehouse allowed Intermountain Healthcare to stay ahead of the challenges presented by COVID-19.

It’s a unique facility that serves as a hub for supplies needed by everyday health care workers, like masks, gloves, gowns, tubing and more.John Wright, the vice president of Intermountain’s supply chain and support services, says this facility is where their two dozen hospitals and more than 200 clinics spanning three states get their supplies. "It's been a bit of a roller coaster. I would say we started off really operating with one of the unknowns… Nobody could tell us what demand was going to be, we really didn't know what patient volumes were going to be,” Wright said.Even with the unknowns of the pandemic, Wright says the supply chain warehouse was already stocked with critical PPE.

“We carry on average about 45 days of inventory here, and for much of the pandemic supplies … about 60 to 70 days,” he said. “So we really had a buffer in the beginning to react appropriately to the situation because we knew we had the inventory available to meet the needs of the organization."

The warehouse fills more than 12,000 orders per day.

Wright says at the beginning of the pandemic, they were flooded by vendors to purchase product — many of them scams with no actual product to share in the first place.

"In the end, frankly most of those did not pan out, either the products really weren't available or the products didn't meet our specifications,” he said.

Previous significant world events also prepared Intermountain for what could be to come — something like a pandemic.

“What helped contribute to our success was previous examples of challenges,” Wright said. “The H1N1 situation in 2009, as well as our Ebola preparation work, even lessons we learned from Hurricane Maria when that struck Puerto Rico, how that influenced our supply chain here in Utah."

With no major lapses in supplies for health care workers, those with Intermountain’s supply chain said that they couldn't have been this successful without generous community members donating supplies for masks and face shields.

In turn, they were able to help out other hospitals when needed. They also donated to local municipalities, first responders and the Navajo Nation.