GPOs and Emergency Preparedness


Todd Ebert

By Todd Ebert

With hurricane season underway, healthcare providers, especially those in potentially impacted areas, must work to prepare and respond to natural disasters. Because healthcare group purchasing organizations serve as partners to virtually all of America’s hospitals, nursing homes, surgery centers, and clinics, GPOs are uniquely equipped to help providers source critical products and coordinate supply chain operations during emergencies. GPOs can help organizations prepare, respond and rebuild after these challenging situations.

Almost any disaster will have an impact on hospitals and health systems by disrupting the supply chain and increasing the number of cases requiring urgent care. GPOs have developed ways to alleviate these pressures by helping prepare for and respond during emergency situations. For example, one HSCA member GPO has a dedicated Disaster Response Team to create prevention plans and ensure a 100% uninterrupted supply chain. Together, the GPO and its members work on advance planning, contacting all members in the affected area to ensure supplies are on hand for at least three days’ operations with no deliveries or assistance, as well as food and clean linens that may be needed to serve a surge of people turning to the hospital for shelter. Importantly, when evaluating products, the team puts a special focus on life-saving products. The GPO also works with supplier partners to ensure they can meet additional demands, make deliveries in advance and identify backup sources, if necessary.

Once disaster strikes, the GPO initiates daily communications with members to ensure they are faring well and are able to provide uninterrupted patient care. The Disaster Response Team also keeps tabs on the affected region, as flooding, debris and other factors can impede usual delivery and operations systems, even in a local area. During the storm, the GPO prepares for anticipated problems and coordinates with manufacturers to ensure supplies that are running low are forward-loaded as close to the affected area as possible for rapid delivery once it’s safe to do so.

Every storm is different, and the aftermath can be difficult to foresee. Each requires its own set of problem-solving skills and ingenuity to respond. Some common solutions GPOs provide include predicting and ensuring members understand the duration of any potential supply interruptions due to damage from the storm; helping members locate alternative sources for supplies when their contracted vendor is unable to accommodate their need; working with distributors and other health systems that may be able to move, donate, or sell supplies to health systems in an affected or shortage area; working with Red Cross and other disaster agencies to secure accessible, staffed warehouse space for medical supplies; and creatively solving transportation, fuel, and other logistics challenges.

GPOs take their role as the sourcing and purchasing partners to America’s hospitals very seriously – a commitment that is tried and tested during emergency situations. When immediate action is needed, GPOs step up to the plate to respond to hospital and provider needs by increasing communication with members and suppliers to identify product availability, anticipating potential shortages, and continually collaborating with government agencies at all levels. Working together in times of emergency, GPOs help healthcare organizations and the patients they serve.

Todd Ebert, R.Ph., is president and CEO of the Healthcare Supply Chain Association (HSCA).