Note: This is part 3 in a series. We recommend reading the previous two first. Access the entire series here:

Part 1: Dealing with Covid-19 Shortages: Masks and Other PPE

Part 2: Workforce Management & Work from Home

Part 3: Planning for the Chronic Phase of the Pandemic

As the healthcare community faces the continued threat of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic, we at Curvo Labs have turned our focus to supporting those leading the fight and connecting hospital supply chain teams for the purpose of sharing knowledge and finding creative solutions.

We recently hosted a webinar discussion with Dr. Li Ern Chen, a senior health consultant with experience as a surgeon and within supply chain, and Andy Perry, CEO of Curvo, where they shared insight into the areas of utmost urgency for healthcare supply chain teams during the COVID-19 pandemic. This post is the third and final article in a series that grew out of the insights they shared.

The first two topics in the series included: Dealing with COVID-19 Shortages – Masks and Other PPE and Managing a Hybrid Work from Home Team. Today, we’re turning our focus to perhaps the most serious topic of all: how healthcare supply chains should be planning for the chronic phase of the pandemic.

Part 3: Planning for the Chronic Phase of COVID-19

Thanks to effective media and social media outreach, much of the public has now heard of the importance of “flattening the curve.” But leaders in healthcare and healthcare supply chain recognize that however flat or spiky the curve gets, the COVID-19 pandemic will have a chronic phase. Some other countries have already been through it (China and Iran) or are in it now (Italy and Spain). The biggest US hotspots (i.e. New York City) are already there as well. For all regions of the US, the worst is yet to come.

To a degree, these are known elements, though the details and timing remain to be seen. Healthcare supply chain teams need to prepare now for the chronic phase. Even if the chronic phase is already beginning in your area, it’s not too late to consider the strategies and out-of-the-box approaches listed below.

Non-PPE Supply and Inventory Strategy

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the mask and PPE shortages that healthcare supply chains are facing as well as several strategies for overcoming those challenges. But as the chronic phase of COVID-19 arrives, there will be shortages of non-PPE supplies as well. We’re already seeing this on the coasts. Some of the non-PPE inventory items that are growing scarce include PDI wipes, beds, monitors and, as odd as it may sound, saccharine solution. Saccharine is aerosolized and then used to test N95 mask fit, so the massive surge in N95 mask usage is causing a similar spike in saccharine.

Sometimes there are novel solutions if we’re willing to think outside of the normal paradigms. That saccharine solution is truly just saccharine and water. If your hospital is in desperate need, your pharmacy could make its own solution by ordering from a restaurant supplier (but mind the OSHA standards). Similarly, if hit hard enough, you might consider sourcing bedding components outside the healthcare supply chain. These aren’t moves any of us want to make. But in a crisis, these strategies can help your health system continue providing care.

Ventilator Shortages

Another critical shortage providers are facing is in ventilators. The problems here are primarily in manufacturing capacity, which is out of the hands of the supply chain team. There’s a massive spike in demand. And manufacturers can’t produce the ventilators quickly enough to meet the urgent needs.

It’s important to understand the nature of the manufacturing bottlenecks. Plenty of companies from various industries have the capability to pivot into ventilator production (Boeing and GM are two big names). But gearing up takes time. Testing and approval processes are also quite lengthy, even as we see the government moving to shorten these to alleviate the current capacity crisis.

Reintroduction of Elective Procedures

Most U.S. hospital systems are limiting elective procedures, and as the chronic phase nears, most will eliminate them completely. During the height of the chronic phase, supply chain teams will be stretched beyond capacity (while also dealing with staff shortages due to illness, in many cases). For a time, your only focus will be on mitigating the pandemic.

Bear in mind that this will pass. And when it does, elective procedures (and their supply chain needs) will resume. You know that crunch time is coming. If it’s not here yet for you, now is the time to take stock of clinical supplies for elective procedures. Position yourself well so you can lessen the inevitable scramble on the other side of COVID-19.