Resourceful and tenacious
Challenges abound, but so do solutions, amid the COVID-19 pandemic
Editor’s note: In the following interview, Ed Hardin, vice president, supply chain, Froedtert Health, provided insights into how his health system has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Journal of Healthcare Contracting (JHC): Can you discuss your organization’s response to COVID-19?
Ed Hardin: I got involved in the first weeks of my organization’s reaction to COVID-19 in an effort to prepare the organization for increased demands of affected patients. We then moved into an Enterprise Incident Command approach, which directly involves more than 50 and many more indirectly. It’s part of the Hospital Incident Command and a pretty standard and approved way of addressing disasters, and crises. It’s not too unlike what first responders do during natural disasters.
We have a number of different sections within that governance. One of them is called the Logistics Section, and I’m the section chief. Within that, our responsibility is basically providing resources where there is a need. It’s not just supplies; it’s HR related, IT related, and training related. It involves a host of things. My world had been primarily supplies and equipment, but this is far broader. Most hospitals actually, I believe, are functioning this way – the big ones for sure. I’m real proud of our organization for what we’re doing.
JHC: How do you approach this situation compared to the regular supply chain work?
Hardin: It’s in large part a different and very intensive type of project management, I was trained in project management in the early 2000s but never had to apply this learning in such a critical way. We’re all learning and kind of drinking from a fire hose, but it’s a close organization – particularly at the leadership level, we enjoy and respect and one another. So, it’s made easier by that but it’s definitely a different dynamic. People’s titles go away. It’s really what you know. So, it’s interesting work.
JHC: How are you navigating supply disruptions or shortages?
Hardin: As of right now (early April), I feel pretty comfortable where we’re at, but the situation is very fluid. Unlike California and New York, we’ve had time to prepare (in Milwaukee). And so, we’ve become quite the resourceful group. Our regular suppliers are reliable in the sense that we’re getting supplies from them, but we’re all on allocation. We’re not getting what we would want, we’re getting what they can give us. That means that a lot of our purchases in the last three to four weeks have been on allocation.
Dollar wise, probably pretty high, we’re working with suppliers that we normally don’t do business with. In some cases, we’re having to deal directly with the manufacturers in China. So we are covering new ground for our organization. I think we’re doing a pretty decent job, given our experience in this space.
We’ve hit a lot of bumps in the road, but we’ve been resourceful and tenacious. I think those are the two words of the day – resourceful and tenacious. Many of us are working around the clock to see to it that these things happen.
I would tell you that my sense is, because of our academic affiliation, that the community seems to be pretty engaged with us. Milwaukee in general is a very, very generous city. The state is a very generous state, and so that’s demonstrated in the type of gracious support that people are giving our hospital. I hear the same for the other hospitals. Our cup runneth over, so to speak, at Froedtert Health in terms of what the community is doing. Again, we haven’t had a big surge of patients, so it remains to be seen, but I’m feeling pretty comfortable right now.
JHC: What suggestions would you give to other supply chain teams on how to stay sane during a crisis like this?
Hardin: I’ve been pretty healthy, despite my health situation (Hardin was diagnosed with stage four cancer in November 2019), but I was near my wits end until we implemented the Enterprise Incident Command. While the situation can be frustrating because you’re having to learn something new, I think that this actually helps us. My advice is that if your organization has an Incident Command Operation, you as a supply chain leader need to be a part of it. Because if you’re on the outside, you’re probably going to get inundated with requests that aren’t really put into proper context. You’re just simply going to be in reaction mode. But be a part of it, be actively a part of it.
This situation is project management on steroids, right? I think that being resourceful and tenacious involves some level of risk. And I can tell you that your typical suppliers aren’t going to meet your needs, and therefore you’re going to have to be tenacious, resourceful. It’s oftentimes up to the CFO or the CEO, but unless you’re willing to wade into the international supply chain market, I think it’s going to be tough, because the local guys, your regular suppliers, can’t supply. Incidentally, most of the suppliers – and by suppliers in this reference I mean companies that are coming your way and wanting to help you buy masks, and gowns, and other PPE – nearly all of them got into this business two months ago.
Now they’re in it, and some are unsavory. I think that’s part of the risk that you share, but you’re going to have to really sort through it, roll up your sleeves and vet these guys. We have been fortunate that most of the work we’ve done has been with companies that have not been in this business before, but came to us at the recommendation of very respected leaders at our medical school or within our health system. That is the kind of a level of vetting that puts my mind at ease. But yeah, this is about being resourceful, tenacious, and having a willingness to take risks. And I know it makes us feel uncomfortable, but organizations are going to have a difficult time if they’re not willing to do that.