Solutions for Supply Shortages Due to COVID-19

As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19 ) pandemic event has accelerated, global health care systems have been overwhelmed with the need for increased supplies and equipment to care for the sudden increase in infectious patients seeking medical care. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE ) demand is at historic levels and the US supply chain has not been able to keep up with the demand for items like- gloves, facemasks, respirators, gowns, etc. We have seen critical global shortages of these supply items, as well as critical respiratory care equipment. PPE products have now become a scarce and precious commodity in many locations when it is needed most to care for highly infectious patients. Increased demand from an event like COVID-19, requires a significant increase in the manufacturing and distribution process time it takes to deliver these products. Our health care providers have had to plan around this crisis, by getting creative in order to safely care for these critically ill and infectious patients.

Supply chain shortages and the pandemic crisis has forced Health Care providers to source products using unconventional methods, in an effort to protect their staff and obtain equipment required to provide adequate care for their patients. Recent media reports of these solutions include using simple substitutes, such as; using plastic garbage bags for gowns and plastic water bottle cutouts for face shields. We are also seeing field modifications to medical devices to enable the device to be used in a manner in which they were not originally designed. CMS and CDC is offing limited governance on the safety of any equipment modifications, but the need has forced providers to look for ways to treat patients with any available equipment and supplies available to them. (i.e.: using Anesthesia Machine Ventilators for Respiratory Support only ) .

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Strategic National Stockpile was created to help address these kinds of problems in our nation’s healthcare supply chain. Unfortunately, its inventory was not adequate, management has not been transparent and there appears to be a logistical challenge to supplies being evenly distributed and it is insufficient to meet demand. Health Care Workers need supply solutions for these shortages now; and have taken steps to address their specific needs in a variety of creative methods. Here are some of the ways they have addressed the need.

Purchasing/Supplier Strategies:

  • Get in Line Now! No matter how small or large your facility is, your normal contracted suppliers that receive your medical equipment and supply products should be able to help isolate some product for you. These suppliers are overwhelmed with orders from everywhere, with new potential customers calling them daily attempting to source products.  Most of these suppliers earmark a large portion of their inventory for their “contracted customers” and give them preferential treatment in filling their orders with increased priority. Do not assume they will “hold” inventory for you – place an order for supplies you would normally use over time. Your orders to the supplier give them more leverage to purchase larger allocations of inventory from their suppliers. This increases your chances of actually receiving the products you need the most. If you receive more than you need…’s ok to return it for full credit as they have numerous other customers waiting to purchase the product as it comes available. Now is the time to measure the quality of the suppliers that have been serving you as their customer.
  • Try sourcing for your products outside of the traditional medical distributors and look to other industries that might use products similar to what is used in a healthcare setting. Industrial suppliers, Construction Suppliers, Office Suppliers all carry PPE products that are suitable for use in a healthcare setting. Smaller suppliers, such as veterinary, dental and DME equipment companies also have supplies that can be used and are available. These smaller suppliers could be sitting on extra inventory that they would be willing to part with, especially if it is being re-directed to front line healthcare facilities.
  • Use global marketplace sites like, Amazon, Ebay, Dotmed, etc. These websites are updated daily with medical supplies and equipment available for sale. Remember that these supplies/products are subject to availability and in most cases are used and are purchased in “as is” condition that could require additional parts and or service labor to return them to safe operating condition.
  • Purchase the product direct from many international manufacturers. Most foreign medical supply and equipment manufacturers will sell direct to healthcare providers and consumers using Point to Point web Connection Sites that enable the buyer to negotiate directly with the manufacturer to purchase and coordinate shipping of most medical supplies. Companies like Alibaba, DHGate, Lightinthebox, Global Sources & Indiamart are good starting points to find these products and buy them directly from the manufacturer that is producing them.
  • Reclaim products – purchase them from places, not necessarily suppliers that might have extra inventory for their use, and would be willing to sell them to a healthcare provider. Dentist Offices, Construction Firms, High Schools and Community Colleges, Hair & Nail Salons, Aerospace industries, industrial “clean lab” facilities, etc.
  • Reuse Products – Rotate products thru 72-hr cycles, utilize ETO, Chemical, and/or UVC Light Sterilization to reuse and lower your consumption of these critical PPE Supplies.
  • Recover Products – Review current inventory of custom procedure packs and bulk packaged products that might not be moving or have reduced utilization at this time. Many of these custom kits have PPE Supplies inside of them that can be used now, and replaced later when the supply chain has returned to a normal sate.
  • Make Your Own – Many Healthcare facilities have a large pool of volunteer staff and associated community support organizations that can help make PPE supplies for their staff to use. Masks and Gowns are easy to make and a fun way to get the involvement in the community to support their caregivers. You can also check local fabricators and injection molding manufacturers in larger cities that would be willing to produce PPE Supplies like facemasks and protective gear.
  • Extend your Current Supplies; Reduce/Cancel all non-essential services and ambulatory procedures. Utilize mobile and out of room monitoring equipment, batch medications and extended dwell IVs. All of which helps reduce direct patient to caregiver exposure and need for PPE supplies.
  • Take advantage of national efforts supported by the federal government to assist Healthcare providers in locating needed PPE Supplies and COVID-19 equipment. Endeavors like Project N95 are now operational as medical equipment and supply clearinghouse to identify high-need regions and help source and distribute PPE and other equipment where it is needed most.

PPE shortages are a problem for HCWs, but not a problem HCWs are trained to address or should be expected to solve. Although it’s become cliché to point out that firefighters are not asked to source their own equipment before entering burning buildings, We understand that hospital administrators, health system media relations departments, university leadership, elected officials, and government agencies all have a role to play in reaching out to suppliers and organizing a response and develop a reliable supply system. Healthcare organizations successful at procuring supplies should also employ rational use of PPE and work together to make sure the available supplies are there for the staff working directly with these COVID-19 patients.