Lorraine Lee

MHA, BSPharm, Senior Vice President, Clinical Operations, Yale New Haven Health System

The Journal of Healthcare Contracting: What’s the most challenging or rewarding project you have worked
on in the last 12 to 18 months?

Lorraine Lee: I think from a supply chain perspective, we’re not unlike anyone else in the country. Literally overnight, we were forced to figure out how to find supplies for COVID-19 patients at 500 to 1000 times the amount that we normally would need. So, my supply chain team just changed course and we did whatever we had to.

We admitted up to 900 COVID patients very quickly because we’re right outside of New York City. It wasn’t like we had an opportunity to plan or wait even a week. We had to find PPE and supplies within days. It was challenging. And my team did everything from driving to shipyards to see what came over in shipping containers to getting up in the middle of night to talk to Asia. We needed to know if things were coming or not, as it was all in flux at the time. A lot of our supplies did not come from the United States, it all came international. So, it was a stressful time.

It was challenging, but it was also really rewarding because we were able to successfully find what we needed to and supply our colleagues with all the PPE they needed. We never ran out of PPE; we came close in a couple of categories, but we never ran out. We used to watch the news and see caregivers in garbage bags. And my team did everything they could to ensure we never were in that place. I think there was stress, but I do think our colleagues and leaders understood supply chain challenges. Luckily, we were successful and that was our collective reward.

The other rewarding thing was that we worked together as a system. We’re a five-hospital system under the Yale New Haven Health banner. During the pandemic, we all rowed in the same direction. Everyone knew what we needed to do. Nobody was off doing their own thing. It was amazing and humbling to watch what happened internally. It was something I will never forget, no matter what I do in my whole career. A lot of staff got redeployed because we didn’t have any outpatient services during that initial time. We shut down all our clinics and our physician offices. All the staff needed somewhere to go, but we never furloughed. They all just got redeployed. Many helped my team in supply chain.

JHC: Have you changed anything in regards to storage or how products are distributed to your sites?

Lee: We’re not self-distribution. We had a distributor who distributed directly to the point of use for the most part, to the hospitals, and the clinics. Interestingly enough, we changed distributors in the middle of the peak of the pandemic. It was a little crazy. We had been with the same distributor for over 30 years. And when I came into supply chain three years ago, the contract was coming up. Thirty years is a long time. So we did an extensive RFP, and we chose a new distributor.

All of this happened in 2019, and our date to transition was April 1, 2020. On March 8, we had our first COVID patient. I think we hit 900 patients in the middle of April. We had many meetings about what to do. Should we switch? Should we just stick with the distributor that we have? The problem with that is the incumbent knows they’re out. Your new distributor is ramping up all your inventory to normal levels, and your incumbent is taking it down. My team was working on PPE sourcing, and we still worked on that for weeks and weeks and weeks. But what about all the other stuff, just the normal supplies that we need? We were having a lot of outages in March, because of the impending switch. We decided to go ahead and switch in the middle of the pandemic. In the end, it was the right decision, because the new distributor had uploaded all our inventory into their warehouse. So, we didn’t have to worry about normal supplies, we were getting lots of material.

JHC: What project or initiative are you most looking forward to working on?

Lee: Especially for supply chain, I want to get back to the business of continuing to develop what we call our clinically integrated supply chain. Before the pandemic, we worked very hard on involving the clinical staff in supply chain decisions, doing what we call value analysis work. Is this medical device the right device for the right patient at the right time? And is it the best price? So, it’s a little bit of everything, but we start with what we need for the patient. We have a physician leadership group that makes all the decisions about what we do bring in and what we don’t bring in. We have more work to do in that area. But now that we’re almost back to normal business, that will be our focus moving forward.