What Can Supply Chain Be?

Contracting Professionals Revisited

Laurel Junk sees all kinds of possibilities

Laurel Junk

Laurel Junk is excited about what she’s doing, almost 10 years after joining Kaiser Permanente and seven years after being named Contracting Professional of the Year by the Journal of Healthcare Contracting in 2012.

She sees the potential for supply chain to play a key role in supporting affordable healthcare to all, improving outcomes, and addressing the tough issues facing some communities, such as a lack of accessible healthcare, scarcity of fresh food, lack of affordable housing, even violence.

“When I arrived here in 2009, I knew the opportunities around supply chain were big,” says Junk, senior vice president of enterprise shared services, Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, California. “Reflecting back, I don’t think I appreciated how big they were.

“The basics of an efficient supply chain hold for us as they do for any industry, and we have put the fundamentals in place. But today, I see that was just a drop in the bucket of what supply chain can really mean.”

Prior to joining Kaiser Permanente, Junk served as vice president of supply chain and contract manufacturing at biotech firm Amgen. Previous positions include vice president, global supply chain for Johnson & Johnson’s Medical Device & Diagnostics Division, as well as leadership roles in supply chain, finance, and systems at IVAC Medical Systems and Eli Lilly & Co.

In her current role, Junk has responsibility for supply chain, national facilities services, clinical technology, security and more. She identifies ways to leverage Kaiser Permanente’s size and scale. And she has plenty of material to work with.

As of Jan. 1, 2019, the system had 694 medical offices and 39 hospitals. Last year it opened 12 medical offices across the country, including the LEED Gold-certified Downtown Commons Medical Office in Sacramento and the Skyport Medical Office in San Jose. Additionally, Kaiser Permanente is actively designing and constructing more than 50 new medical offices, which are scheduled to open in the next three years.

The system also added eight retail clinics in Target stores across Southern California last year, with plans to open nine more in 2019.

Affordability agenda
“Central to our shared services strategy is our affordability agenda,” says Junk. “How do we make ourselves more affordable to the people who have to pay premiums?” Working alongside the clinical team, supply chain is an important part of that effort.

“We can’t – and won’t – tell our physicians what products to use,” she says. “We believe that product selection starts with the right clinical product.” Supply chain and the medical staff agree on the importance of being evidence-based. “Our challenge is bringing the right information to the table to demonstrate what’s working well in one part of the organization, and what might be an improvement in another area.

“As long as it’s evidence-based, doctors are hungry for information. In fact, they push us with, ‘How can we get more relevant data?’”

Since 2012, Junk has accomplished many of the goals she laid out for herself, including deployment of a single-instance ERP system for purchasing and inventory management. Other accomplishments include:

  • Transportation centralization. In 2012, about 1,500 vehicles criss-crossed the Kaiser Permanente system, run by many different organizations, she says. “Nobody was overseeing how things moved across the system.” Bringing all that under one roof was an early win for supply chain. “Now we’re taking it beyond transportation centralization, to ‘logistics optimization,’” she says. “How do we optimize all the supply chains within Kaiser Permanente?”
  • Med/surg distribution. In 2017, Kaiser Permanente switched its primary med/surg distributor. It was a “pretty audacious” move, says Junk, given that it involved converting 45,000 products. But it has proven to be a worthwhile one, she adds.
  • Healthcare Transformation Group. Kaiser Permanente was one of five healthcare systems to form HTG in 2010, the others being Geisinger Health System, Intermountain Healthcare, Mayo Clinic and Mercy. “We have helped move the needle on GS1 standards,” which assign unique numbers to trading partners as well as items at all levels of packaging. “And that sets the table for evidence-based medicine, which supports quality care for our members.”

Enterprise shared services
Junk believes that her supply chain experience allows her to see tremendous opportunities in enterprise shared services.

“When you look at supply chain, we can do the tactics really well, and that’s important,” she says. “But now we’re asking ourselves, ‘How can we really drive our mission?’ One thing that immediately comes to mind is our initiative for total health spend optimization.

“We’re looking at our $20 billion spend and asking, ‘How can we drive more of that into our communities and build local economic engines?’” Supporting diverse suppliers is one way. And using local contractors to build clinics in underserved communities is another. “We have a beautiful medical facility in Los Angeles that will support people in the community, but that also employed local construction talent.”

Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson has challenged everyone in the system to look at how the system’s assets can be used to improve health in the communities served, she adds. That’s especially important in low-income areas, whose citizens lack access to high-quality care.

In Oakland, Kaiser Permanente is working with community partners to connect local urban food producers to FoodService Partners, a company that provides meals for hospitals, schools, stores and other institutions. Fruit and vegetables are grown hydroponically (that is, in water instead of soil), while fish are stocked and farmed in an aqua pond. Food is prepared daily and shipped to local healthcare facilities.

“It’s sustainable, and it will have a huge community impact – at least 300 jobs,” says Junk. “And we won’t pay any more for the food than we do through our normal distribution network.”

First in supply chain, now in shared services, Junk sees many opportunities to have an impact on healthcare. And she encourages young people to consider supply chain as a career.

“Healthcare is undergoing dramatic change in ways that will help solve issues like food deserts, and helping people live longer by offering them support and better healthcare,” she says.

“A lot of young people are looking for purpose as well as financial stability. They can do that in healthcare supply chain. If you expand your mind, there are brilliant people out there, all trying to figure out, ‘How can we make lives better for everybody?’”

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