Preparing for COVID-19: Behind the Scenes – The Integral Role of Jefferson Health’s Supply Chain

June 29, 2020medical supplies

When the coronavirus first entered the United States, nobody knew just how vast the spread would become. Health systems, understandably, were not prepared for the implications of a global health crisis, and with no clear idea of how long it would last, one thing was certain – supplies needed to be stocked up on.

PPE, or personal protective equipment – once only muttered by medical professionals – quickly became a buzzword among the general public. Proper masks, shields, gowns, and the like were needed in order to keep patients and employees safe. It was up to those behind the scenes, in supply chain management, to ensure they’d have what was needed.

James J. Childs, MHA, CMRP, recalls when the news of the impeding pandemic hit his desk in late February. Senior Manager of Regional Operations for Supply Chain Management at Jefferson Health New Jersey, Childs’ main role is ensuring that enough supplies are distributed to various clinical areas.

With nearly 20 years’ experience in the field, Childs knew he and his team needed to act fast; fortunately, they were able to take a page from what was occurring in New York and get a head start. The big city hospitals, ravaged first, were suffering severe shortages; Jefferson’s supply chain did everything they could to not face the same issues.  

Throughout the entire pandemic thus far – with the compliance and collaboration of supply chain, administration, infection control, clinical leadership, and, of course, the frontline workers themselves – Jefferson hospitals have not once run out of PPE or other necessary products. “This has been a true success story,” Childs said confidently.

The first step in preparation was simple: they worked with contracted distributors and vendors to “bulk up,” says Childs. “We typically kept around a few days’ worth of surplus PPE, and we immediately had to up it 10-fold.”

From there, relationships were strengthened, and critical conversations were held on a daily basis. There was a necessity for constant updates on supplies in various departments, explains Childs. Conservation of PPE and adherence of CDC guidelines and best practices was top priority. 

It wasn’t only Jefferson’s New Jersey hospitals at the forefront of these conversations, but the division’s COVID-19 testing sites and outpatient locations as well. This was crucial in order to keep as many employees, patients, and community members as safe as possible.

“As a department, we knew the role we played would ultimately affect patient outcomes,” continued James. Everyone joined forces more than he had ever seen before; they did their part to help “flatten the curve” throughout South Jersey, keeping infection rates down, providers functioning, and patients well taken care of.

While the pressures of providing a continuous supply of products became trying at times – forcing some to work extended hours and even transport supplies from one location to another – Childs says that everyone adapted well and worked together to overcome the challenges that came their way. These experiences will inevitably change the way that health system supply chains, such as Jefferson’s, function in the future from here on out.

“We’ve never been through anything like this. It’s clear now that changes have to be made,” continued Childs. Being prepared for a health crisis on this scale will become an integral part of the “new normal.”

Childs’ perspective is just one from within the healthcare trenches; the impacts of COVID-19 are still rolling out each day. Luckily, with the right team and mindset, says Childs, you can accomplish anything.