Times of Trouble

Todd Ebert

By Todd Ebert

Group purchasing organizations provide support in U.S. disaster relief efforts

This year, the country experienced a wave of natural disasters and other emergencies that put stress on hospitals and healthcare providers as they serve affected communities. Because healthcare group purchasing organizations (GPOs) serve as partners to virtually all of America’s hospitals, nursing homes, surgery centers, and clinics, natural disasters and emergencies give GPOs an opportunity to stand with healthcare providers as they combat these difficult challenges.

GPOs have an important role to play in mitigating the impact of disasters on the U.S. healthcare system. Although most often associated with the cost savings and broader efficiencies that they deliver to acute and non-acute care centers, GPOs serve as the primary sourcing partners for these providers. Given their distinct line of sight into the healthcare supply chain, GPOs are primed to leverage their position to ensure that providers have the supplies and services they need in emergency situations.

While each natural disaster is different, and its potential devastation difficult to foresee, GPOs pre-emptively put together comprehensive disaster relief plans to relieve some of the burden on hospitals and healthcare providers. GPOs are uniquely able to work alongside drug and healthcare device manufacturers to identify and locate supplies of much-needed resources, and if necessary, ration their distribution among disadvantaged providers.

When Hurricane Harvey hit in August of this year, HSCA member GPOs put these plans into action, jumping to the front lines of disaster relief. A Texas medical branch reached out to its GPO days into the hurricane flooding to alert them to the fact that the local blood bank was unable to fulfill blood and platelet order requests due to the water damage. The medical branch was able to locate alternate sources to fill the orders, but had no way of receiving the much-needed supplies.

True to form, the GPO got down to business. Five hours, one chartered plane, 160 units of blood and 12 platelets later, the Texas medical team had what they needed to keep saving lives. In fact, throughout the week, three different flights were made to the area. One flight had to be shipped from the airport landing strip to the Texas-based medical team via a Blackhawk helicopter to avoid the path of devastating flooding.

Since the GPO stepped up to the relief effort, the Texas medical branch was able to save the lives of three patients and to improve the care of many others at their campus, including a sickle cell patient with a rare blood type and two burn patients.

In the wake of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, another GPO took a lead role in sourcing supplies such as insulin and facilitating a series of critical medical supply deliveries via a chartered plane.

GPOs take their role as the critical sourcing and purchasing partners to America’s hospitals very seriously, and recent disasters have given GPOs an opportunity to prove their mettle. GPOs have helped providers deliver the care their patients need by increasing communication with members and suppliers to identify product availability, anticipating potential supply shortages, and continually collaborating with government agencies at all levels.

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

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