In just the last few weeks, two disastrous hurricanes have wrecked parts of the Southern United States, leading to dozens of casualties and billions in damages. As these communities work to get back on their feet, hospitals and health systems are doing their best to maintain high-quality patient care.
To help, many organizations are donating funds – Premier and its employees included. While monetary relief is crucial, there’s more to disaster planning and recovery than writing a check. There’s real work that needs to be done for people across our communities. People like a sickle cell patient with a rare blood type that was admitted to The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) and needed an emergency blood transfusion during Hurricane Harvey.
When local blood banks stopped fulfilling orders for blood and platelets due to flooding from Hurricane Harvey, UTMB was in a bind and Premier stood ready to help. Roads were impassable, and even when supplies were in the area, it was impossible to get them into the hands of medical teams. With patients that immediately needed this lifesaving commodity, UTMB identified a source for blood and platelets in Indiana but the problem became one of transportation.
UTMB reached out to Premier to quickly find a way to get the blood products in their hands. We worked with our partners at FFF, a specialty distributor we co-own, to charter a plane that carried 160 units of blood and 12 platelets to UTMB in less than 5 hours. Throughout the week, we made three different flights to the area, one of which had to be shipped from the landing strip to the medical team via a Blackhawk helicopter to avoid flooding.
With emergency blood deliveries from Premier, UTMB has been able to save the lives of three patients – all because they had the supplies they needed in time, courtesy of creative disaster response and the hard work of dedicated UTMB employees.
Disaster response efforts largely go unsung. But when done well, preparations can minimize the devastation. Below, are some best practices we’ve put in place to conduct disaster response, and how Premier members, suppliers and employees can best work together to ensure that lives can be saved even in the face of challenging circumstances.
As a national alliance of hospitals and health systems, almost any disaster will have an effect on our members. Because of this, we have a dedicated, Disaster Response Team to create prevention plans and ensure a 100% uninterrupted supply chain. Together, we work on advance planning, contacting all members in the affected area to ensure supplies are on hand for at least three days’ operations with no deliveries/assistance (with a special focus on life saving products), as well as food and clean linens that may be needed to serve a surge of people turning to the hospital for shelter. We also work with our supplier partners to ensure they can meet additional demands, make deliveries in advance and identify backup sources, if necessary.
Once disaster strikes, we initiate daily communications with members to ensure they are faring well and able to provide uninterrupted patient care. The Disaster Response Team also keeps tabs on the affected region, as flooding, debris and other factors can impede usual delivery and operations systems, even in a local area. During the storm, we prepare for problems that we know are going to be an issue afterward, and we coordinate with manufacturers to ensure supplies that are running low are forward loaded as close to the affected area as possible for rapid delivery once it’s safe to do so.
Every storm is different and the aftermath can be difficult to foresee. Each requires its own set of problem solving skills and ingenuity to respond. Some common solutions we provide include:
- Predicting and ensuring members understand the duration of any potential supply interruptions due to damage from the storm;
- Helping members locate alternative sources for supplies when their contracted vendor is unable to accommodate their need;
- Working with distributors and other health systems that may be able to move, donate or sell supplies to health systems in an affected or shortage area;
- Working with Red Cross and other disaster agencies to secure accessible, staffed warehouse space for medical supplies; and
- Creatively solving transportation, fuel and other logistics challenges.
While disaster response and rebuilding work resulting from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will need to continue for some time, we feel honored to be able to play even a modest role in helping our members serve patient needs. We wish to thank the tireless efforts of our employees, partners, member suppliers and others standing ready for anything that can help during crises like these.
For more information about Premier’s disaster response efforts, watch the video below.
As Premier Inc.'s senior vice president of supply chain, I lead our group purchasing, direct sourcing and ecommerce services.