Hospital supply chains are straining from the surging coronavirus pandemic, and many hospitals are running out of critical equipment. Personal protective equipment, including N95 masks and gloves, is in particularly short supply. And many front-line providers are resorting to extreme measures to make supplies last as long as possible. 

Imports of medical supplies, especially from China, are falling just as U.S. demand is rising. Across China, factories that produce the majority of U.S. medical supplies have closed down due to the pandemic. Imports of hand sanitizer, surgical masks and swabs have all declined dramatically.

How hospitals are responding

The situation is forcing hospitals and health systems to develop both immediate efforts to replenish stocks, and more long-term contingency plans. CFOs and other organization leaders are scrambling to identify alternate sources for many critical products—and proactively reaching out to vendors to gain a clearer understanding of potential shortages.

Kaufman Hall Managing Director Jason Sussman recommends hospitals develop contingency plans for obtaining supplies and pharmaceuticals as part of broader scenario planning exercises. Health systems with multiple locations may also want to analyze which hospitals have specific supplies, and develop ways to transfer drugs and materials as needed.

In the interim, many hospitals are employing a do-it-yourself approach to help address shortfalls. In Washington State—one of the early flashpoints of the U.S. coronavirus epidemic—Providence St. Joseph Health infection control and quality staff have begun making handmade face shields, using supplies from Home Depot and local craft stores.

A number of hospitals have even begun working with the amateur sewing community to produce homemade masks for use as an alternative if supplies of industrially produced face masks run low. And companies including Apple, Tesla, and Hanes have all pledged to donate existing masks or begin producing masks to help out with shortages.

If and when the surge subsides, it will be worth watching if hospitals work to sustain new innovations, alternative sourcing strategies, conservation initiatives, and other responses to the pandemic. In any event, it’s hard to imagine the healthcare supply chain will ever return to its former state—and likely the industry will take a closer look into understanding where its next shipment of masks is coming from.

In Brief