by Deanna Leonard, M.B.A.
It’s no secret that COVID-19 has disrupted the international supply chain for many products, including those urgently needed by the healthcare industry. The stories of desperate attempts to acquire personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers throughout the pandemic are distressing. Supply chain issues have impacted professional healthcare apparel (PHA) as well. But if you do your homework, determining which suppliers have been able to avoid or minimize supply problems, you can increase your chances of an uninterrupted supply of PHA.
Set Specific Criteria Based on Facility Needs
Hospitals, long-term and post-acute care (LTPAC) facilities often form teams to create and determine their apparel supply program. Teams usually include the facility’s supply chain director, purchasing manager, chief nursing officer (CNO) or other nurse leaders, and representatives from marketing and human resources (HR). You may wonder about the final two on the list. Yes, uniform apparel is predominantly about its functionality for your employees. But it also reflects the professionalism and culture you convey to your current and prospective patients and employees as you constantly seek to expand care and improve outcomes.
Not all acute care and LTPAC facilities partner with a uniform supplier. Hospitals with surgical departments usually contract with an operating room (OR) scrubs supplier. But policies tend to vary for other departments. Many facilities recognize distinct benefits to engaging a supplier to provide uniform apparel rather than allowing employees to find their source for their workplace clothing. From those who are seeking a PHA supplier, we’ve repeatedly heard that they have three primary criteria:
- Safety and security
- Easy employee purchase programs
One of your top goals is to ensure the safety and security of your patients and workers. You don’t want to add to patient or family member stress by not properly identifying your employees. When your employees wear standardized and customized apparel, patients know they are part of your staff and what function they perform. As you search for the right PHA supplier, look for one that offers apparel that can differentiate your employee roles and create or standardize a professional dress code for your medical and facility staff.
A supplier’s professionalism should be a significant determinant in selecting the best partner for your PHA program. For example, does the company have a long track record in providing professional healthcare apparel? Are its representatives accessible and responsive? Do its current customers offer positive references? Does the supplier have strong vendor partnerships? Affirmative answers to all these questions will help you form a relationship with a PHA supplier whose professionalism will drive a successful uniform apparel program at your facility.
Your employees work long, hard hours – even more so since the coronavirus pandemic began – so you should find ways to make their lives easier when they’re not on the job. In terms of apparel, this means identifying a supplier with simple, straightforward employee purchase programs. Does the supplier offer a catalog of comfortable, affordable, functional yet fashionable PHA in a multitude of sizes? Is the apparel fit-tested and well made? Can employees access reliable size charts? Does the supplier offer on-site opportunities for employees to try on PHA and evaluate new styles? Your PHA supplier should check all these boxes in creating a uniform apparel program that’s convenient for your caregivers. It certainly won’t hurt their job satisfaction either!
In selecting a PHA supplier, you should also consider the locations of the manufacturers they use and whether they offer the ability to buy in bulk.
A PHA Program Should Add Value to Your Business
As a long-time supplier of professional healthcare apparel, Encompass Group is proud to say that we’ve experienced little to no significant PHA supply chain delays during the pandemic. There are two primary reasons for this achievement: our PHA products are made in the western hemisphere and nearshore, and we consistently carry a deep inventory. This business model gives us better control and reduces our liabilities. It enabled us to be highly responsive to the healthcare facilities seeking PHA in the past and has made a huge difference in keeping them supplied since COVID-19 emerged.
We are also lucky to work with amazing vendors. We have cultivated partnerships based on flexibility, contingency plans, transparency, integrity, and over-communication. Given supply chain volatility even before the pandemic hit, we determined that buying in bulk would not fit our ability to serve our customers in a timely manner but also enable us to offer them advantageous pricing given our inflationary economy.
While the time from order to delivery generally depends on the product, volume and customization, if PHA is retail and in stock, we ship to our customers within 48 hours. If we encounter a rare unforeseen delay, we communicate directly with the customer as soon as possible and offer an updated arrival schedule. We were recently approached by a facility whose current apparel vendor never delivered on their promises and indicated no progression in their business relationship. We were able to show them that working with the right PHA supplier should eliminate problems, not add to them.
Uniform Apparel Solutions Benefit Facilities, Personnel, Patients
Today, many healthcare facilities and systems are moving to a branded, color-coded staff uniform program to increase their competitive advantage. These programs can assist your business in a variety of ways:
- They reinforce your brand by creating and maintaining a professional image for your employees.
- They increase security by identifying care providers by role and assuring that they’re part of your team.
- They improve the patient experience, leading to greater satisfaction and better Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores.
- They boost employee satisfaction by offering high-quality, stylish, and comfortable apparel to your workers.
- They make ordering easier for facilities and employees.
To help facilities and systems differentiate themselves, we’ve created the Group One® staff uniform apparel program, which leverages our supply chain of popular Jockey® Scrubs, Fundamentals® Scrubs and Meta® Labwear. It enables our customer partners to realize all the benefits I previously outlined, and they receive personal attention from our project managers, planning and customer service teams. We offer fit sessions for their employees, which help generate overall enthusiasm for the program and interest when new styles become available. We help ease the transition to the new solution for management and staff and create programs to expedite future onboarding and replacement apparel. Some facilities have regularly scheduled orders, in intervals ranging from daily to annual – and everywhere in between.
The Best Supplier Becomes a Partner
As you determine whether to engage a professional healthcare apparel supplier, try to think beyond a typical buyer-seller relationship. Does the supplier listen to your needs, plans and concerns? What is its culture and work ethic? Does it share its success with those in greatest need? For example, Encompass and Jockey® have already donated more than 20,000 scrubs to rural hospitals across the U.S. to express gratitude to our healthcare heroes.
We truly believe that the best customer-supplier relationship is a partnership, where both parties work together to help you achieve your goals. There are many ways to enhance and communicate the unique nature of your hospital, health system or LTPAC facility. By selecting the right PHA supplier, you can take the “dress for success” adage to a whole new level!
Deanna Leonard is Vice President and General Manager – Retail Apparel for Encompass Group, LLC.