Global supply chain crisis impacts healthcare

RIDGECREST REGIONAL HOSPITAL — As hospitals all over the country pivot around shortages driven by global conflicts, rising transportation costs, material scarcity and the pandemic-related disruptions, RRH continues to navigate around product availability.

“We are used to planning around supply chain issues, both those that we can anticipate and those we can't,” said Stephanie Meeks, who oversees emergency management and regulatory compliance at RRH.

“But none of the usual causes — natural disasters, labor conflicts, transportations challenges — compare to the global disruption that was brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Holly Lawrence, material manager at RRH.

While supply shortages have been a hallmark of the pandemic era, panic in many sectors have intensified as critical needs like baby formula have become all but impossible to procure.

“There are a lot of factors that are driving these shortages, but baby formula is an example of how the market share can also exacerbate the crisis,” said Meeks.

“There are only three main suppliers for formula, so if those sources are depleted it's not always an option to just switch to another supplier,” said Lawrence.

She added that there are sometimes instruments and equipment that have proprietary technology provided by only one supplier.

Healthcare is also among the industries that have protective allocations in place to prevent hoarding. “That just means that if you typically use 10 of one item per month, you cant just order 100 the next month.”

Those policies can help ensure equitable distribution during times of scarcity, “but it also means that buying everything you can to anticipate a shortage is not an option.”

Other shortages that are already hitting local healthcare systems include laboratory and radiology supplies. “But every hospital in the country is experiencing this — it's not just Ridgecrest,” said Meeks.

“As a healthcare facility we are very mindful of our usage,” said Lawrence. As an example, she and her team were already preparing for the upcoming hurricane season — a known disruptor.

“Part of the planning is in screening our vendors and vetting the quality of their products.”

Although RRH has not been caught up in the recent string of scams, the supply shortage has also seen a rise in opportunists that take payment without delivery or who ship sub-standard materials and equipment.

“I would like to thank our patients and our community for the patience and support they have shown us,” said Meeks.

“Part of the difficulty for us is the unpredictability of some of these impacts. Most of our planning and preparation is based on experience, and this pandemic is just something no one has experienced before at this scale.”