“We were down to just a critical few days,” recalled Hartford HealthCare CEO Jeff Flaks.
That was at the beginning of the pandemic. Flaks said doctors and nurses were using up personal protective equipment at such an alarming rate that Hartford HealthCare couldn’t keep up.
“You have to prepare for a massive supply disruption,” Flaks said of the lesson learned last spring.
For the first time since the pandemic nearly wiped out its supply, Hartford HealthCare said it now has a permanent stockpile of personal protective equipment. It said it has accumulated between six-months to a years-worth of PPE, including masks, face shields, gowns and gloves.
“This is the body armor that our caregivers, our healthcare heroes wear on the front line every day,” Flaks explained.
Hartford HealthCare Senior Vice President Milrose Mercado, who leads the system’s supply chain, said it’s spent $30 million on PPE this year, compared to three million in previous years.
Most of these supplies are coming from overseas through purchase agreements with international manufacturers.
President-elect Joe Biden wants to mobilize more American companies to manufacture PPE through the Defense Production Act and Defense Logistics Act.
"You want to make sure under all circumstances now, and in the case of any future pandemic, that you're able to utilize companies and say you will produce this. You will be paid for it,” Rep. John Larson (D) First District said.
“As we’re bringing on new American companies, the intent is to be able to leverage those organizations where applicable, and then start to move off those contracts that we’ve established internationally,” Milrose said when asked if the healthcare system would try to buy American once more supplies became available.
The state as a whole has ordered more than $227 million in PPE over the last 10 months and received just under $200 million worth. The rest is either in transit or has been canceled by the state.
"We have over 175 million pieces of PPE in the stockpile right now,” said the state’s Chief Operating Officer, Josh Geballe, noting that the stockpile is filled beyond 100%.
"We're constantly replenishing our supply as we use it in our continued COVID response, but what we've done is build a 90-day stockpile in case the supply chain dries up," he continued.
It's inventory that Geballe said is collecting dust for now, but is an insurance policy for the future.
"That's what a stockpile is for, in anticipation of a future crisis,” he pointed out.
In December, the state ordered close to $14 million worth of PPE including 11,000 cases of gloves, 20 million surgical masks, 10,000 cases of N95 surgical masks, and a thousand cases of face shields. It's even turned to Amazon at times.
"Most recently, gloves were hard to come by. Sometimes we can find more inventory on Amazon,” he said.
While Hartford HealthCare said its past practice was to keep two months-worth of supplies, Flaks said it is committed to keeping a years-worth of inventory post-pandemic so that they’re never left scrambling in the future.
"Everyone else within our society understandably is looking to go back to normal, but in healthcare, we're going to be better than normal,” Flaks explained. "I believe health systems like ours should be building supply inventories at this level, it's the right thing to do it's the safe thing to do."