Team effort

Enrique Sanabriaregional sales manager for lab distribution
Cardinal Health

Enrique Sanabria, regional sales manager for lab distribution at Cardinal Health, shared this story with Repertoire/Journal of Healthcare Contracting six weeks after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. But he wanted to make clear the story isn’t his alone, but that of an entire team, including:

  • Donnie Jackson, territory account manager for lab distribution, Cardinal Health, Houston and Southeast Texas.
  • Kimberly Barrett, director of operations, Cardinal Health, Houston Medical Distribution Center
  • Michelle Fort, core account manager, Cardinal Health, Houston.
  • Freddie Bloomfield, strategic account executive, Cardinal Health, Houston.
  • Janet Russell, field service consultant, Cardinal Health.
  • Kelly Thrash, field service senior specialist, Cardinal Health.
  • And many more

Q: What preparations did you take in the days leading up to landfall of Hurricane Harvey on Aug. 25?

Enrique Sanabria: At the start of hurricane season, we always increase stocking levels of critical supplies, like PPE items. Then we:

  • Set a plan for ensuring employees were accounted for during the storm.
  • Worked on emergency orders, so customers were prepared prior to the storm in case of inability to service. We stocked up supplies (food, water, etc.) at the DC for emergency if employees were stranded there.
  • Tested our onsite generator and topped off the tank.
  • Arranged for an out-of-town support team to stay at a hotel near the DC, along with an operations manager, so we could process as quickly as possible. Although a small group, we were functioning and processing emergency orders right away.
  • Began making daily calls with key customers three days before estimated landfall. We discussed and encouraged them to order extra supplies to prepare for the possibility of interrupted deliveries.
  • Conducted twice-daily conference calls with Cardinal Health corporate and local teams to include our DC Houston and DC Grand Prairie director of operations, customer service, inventory teams, global security and Penske Logistics to ensure all needs internally and with our customers were met before, during and after the storm.

Q: How did you/your provider customers fare during the storm itself?

Enrique Sanabria: Both Cardinal Health and our customers were successful during the storm. Despite obvious challenges – such as flooding and a few hospitals having to move patients and shut down — we reacted quickly and we were able to shift supplies as needed.

To mitigate any crisis, during our internal, twice daily calls, we discussed our daily delivery schedule and uploaded emergency orders as needed to ensure stock was delivered to the facilities with the most need at that time. For example, we made deliveries to at least five of the 12 hospitals in one major health system every single day throughout the duration of the storm. As the waters began to recede, we increased the number of deliveries each day until we returned to business as usual.

Q: What were your greatest challenges (and those of your customers) in the 7-10 days following the storm?

Enrique Sanabria: Many of our customers were affected personally at home and at work by this tragedy. They understood many of the challenges we were facing because they were facing the same challenges.

The greatest challenge for us and our customers was with logistics, inventory of products, returning to “normal” schedules and tempering expectations post-storm.

Scaling back up to full operations at the Houston DC, which services the Houston metro area and southeast Texas, was a challenge. This was where the brunt of the storm hit. Many of our carriers were not operational and would not deliver or accept freight coming to the Houston area. In fact, many carriers stopped delivering two days before Harvey made landfall, and did not being delivering again until almost 10-12 days after the storm.

We brought in 40 people from out of town to support the DC while our employees were getting back into operations. Our teams did everything they could to mitigate programs and ensure success.

Q: Longer-term problems or challenges?

Enrique Sanabria: Many people lost everything and were displaced from the area. Now, there are many reconstruction job openings in the market, so although we are a permanent job with benefits, the availability of the clean-up and restoration work may compete with our ability to secure local job applicants.

Q: Finally, any lessons learned to share with your colleagues?

Enrique Sanabria: Yes:

  • Take care of your employees first, and they will ensure the customer is taken care of.
  • Plan early and be prepared: focus on the needs beyond what could come up as an immediate need during the situation itself and plan for multiple contingencies.
  • Communicate realistic expectations with your customers. For example, at the Houston Medical DC, we were committed to being up as quickly as possible, but we set a clear foundation that we would not be able to open our doors for business as usual from day one. I think that built a stronger relationship with our partners. Communication and planning are critical before, during, and after the storm. Our teams were constantly on the phone working to ensure each hospital had the supplies needed to treat their patients.
  • Ensure you are preparing for these types of events during the “off” season to be as prepared as possible when it does happen. For example, ask key customers to compile a list of the most critical items to have available during a crisis like this, so we can add additional stock at the beginning of each hurricane season moving forward.

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