At the beginning of April 2020, with shutdowns in full swing and COVID-positive numbers rising, Medline was able to provide NorthShore’s COVID-19 patient care teams additional personal protective equipment (PPE). Thirty carts full of supplies—including gowns, gloves, N9Ss, isolation masks, thermometers and other PPE; the first delivery of many expected that month—were delivered April 2 to Skokie Hospital to be distributed throughout the system. “These are liquid gold on a cart,” said Carsten Gudella, Assistant Vice President, Corporate Supply Chain Operations.2
What is critical for the process is how to keep the supply distributions from interrupting the flow of any given day. Nicknamed “U-boats,” the supply carts are easily managed and moved by two individuals, avoiding the need for forklifts. All supplies are shrink-wrapped to protect them during transit and delivery. The transfer from loading dock to guarded storage rooms in a makeshift, onsite warehouse happens in less than 20 minutes. Once carefully inventoried, the supplies are shipped to system-wide hospitals, immediate care centers and drive-through test sites, among others. “The supplies are going out as fast as we get them in,” said Gudella.
During the summer, Medline’s MedTrans trucks initially backhauled 100 pallets of isolation gowns, hand sanitizer and masks to a Medline distribution center in Libertyville, IL, and the program has continued to grow from there. Since July 2020, at NorthShore’s request, Medline has periodically added excess product to the distribution center. Examples include backhauling product directly from Skokie Hospital, transferring bulk allocation purchases directly to 3PL storage (never leaving the distribution center), or coordinating a drop ship with vendors for direct delivery.
Discussing crisis preparedness and COVID-19, Medline had a brief conversation with NorthShore’s executive supply chain team to gather more insights on their operational infrastructure:
Q. Is supply chain management a strategic senior level position in your organization or is it a part of an operations activity?
A. NorthShore’s supply chain has long been a trusted partner for operations, and over the past five years have shifted to also being a strategic partner. The pandemic kept supply chain top of mind for many of our leaders and we have never felt more gratitude coming our way.
Q. Is your business model resilient enough to recover from the impact of a crisis and manage potential crises in the future?
A. If speaking specifically to COVID-19, then yes, we shifted the distribution model of our key supplies and PPE from LUM to bulk to have tighter inventory control and more flexibility during the pandemic and are building out a warehouse for supply chain pandemic stockpiles for the future. With respect to Clinical Operations at NorthShore, we have been incredibly nimble, adapting to the need of our community, standing up drive thru testing locations, pivoting Glenbrook Hospital into a COVID only hospital for a while, and shifting our entire care model.
Q. Do you have a built-in change management process that constantly reviews the elements of your supply chain and looks for opportunities to improve quality and operational efficiency—or do your systems, policies and procedures block improvement?
A. We do not have a built-in change management team focused on improving quality and operational efficiency, but our frontline managers and others are taught to always look for better ways to do our jobs so we can continue improving. Additionally, we partner closely with Medline to evaluate some of our key opportunities for improvement.
Q. Is Just-In-Time the right answer for your business in the midst of or aftermath of COVID-19?
A. Not for items impacted by COVID-19’s global supply chain disruption. As noted earlier, we are implementing a local warehouse and will always keep between 60-90 days of stock on critical items available in our possession locally. Eventually, we hope to be able to shift back to a full LUM/JIT program but at this point, it seems years away.