Where Did Hospitals Turn for Supplies During the Pandemic?
April 23, 2021
By Ryan Cuevas | General Manager
By Ryan Cuevas | General Manager
If you wonder how hospitals found supplies during the pandemic, you aren’t alone. The principles of supply and demand were in full effect, but I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to develop a working partnership with Universal Health Services (UHS).
With 90,000 employees, UHS is one of the nation’s largest providers of hospital and healthcare services. They have a combined 400 acute care hospitals, behavioral health facilities, and ambulatory centers across the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the U.K.
So, when I first had the chance to work with UHS, I was impressed. They focus on making healthcare a positive, local experience. Recently, I had a chance to sit down with some of the women I work with regularly to talk about how the UHS supply chain changed as a result of COVID-19.
Here’s an edited Q&A of my conversation with Juliet Dacayo, UHS’ Corporate Purchasing Manager, and Yesenia Ramirez, a purchasing specialist on Juliet’s team.
What was happening in your supply chain that caused you look to for improvements during the pandemic?
Juliet: Obviously, most of the companies in the healthcare industry experienced shortages on PPE. That started probably in March and April of last year. So a part of our due diligence is to go out there and search for vendors that could help us. You know, they maintain a good level of inventory for what we call the critical PPE, such as gowns, gloves, coveralls, bouffant caps.
So we were doing business with Fastenal for the past few years, but then when we were experiencing the PPE shortage when the pandemic began fully, my staff reached out. And at that time, we were so thankful and surprised that Fastenal was able to meet the products that we were looking for, because they also supported other customers.
But we were able to work together with Fastenal to ensure that we had enough quantity to support our hospitals. So that's one of the improvements that we did: establishing a closer business relationship with Fastenal who supported us all along during this pandemic.
A common request for Fastenal is to hold inventory on our books and then release via PO. How did that help UHS?
Yesenia: That was actually a huge help because a lot of the issues we had with facilities were storage. They weren't able to keep a lot in storage, and there was such high demand for gowns and shoe covers – They were going through so many. But one-time delivery of a bunch of pallets wasn't something that was feasible.
Fastenal was able to ship the product to their warehouse that had storage capabilities and then ship accordingly to the people who we wanted to ship to. And we have so many facilities across the U.S., not only did it help with storage but invoicing, too. We were able to, instead of one PO and one facility gets invoiced, we were able to create multiple purchase orders and invoice accordingly. So it was a huge help. Fastenal holding the inventory for us helped tremendously.
So you deal with coast-to-coast sourcing. How has Fastenal been able to help you in that area?
Yesenia: With Fastenal having locations throughout the U.S., it was helpful that we were able to ship something closer to the facility. So if we had something in Texas, your Texas location was able to ship and they help with transportation fees and they help with ETAs as well. We were able to get the product to the facility a lot faster than shipping it from California to Florida, for example. So having you guys across the board helped a lot with us being across the U.S. as well.
How big has it been switching to a single point of contact for POs?
Yesenia: That was really helpful. Because in the beginning, having that one point, while dealing with facilities spread across the U.S., it was very good. When you're dealing with PPE and emergency orders, you don't have time to figure out who’s your rep when you're working with 24 hospitals. So having one main contact now, it's huge. That person that you're dealing with knows the struggles that you're going through. They start to know the addresses and everything. And we don’t have to go through everything all over again and start from the beginning each time.
After the pandemic was in full effect, UHS and Fastenal partnered on more supply chain work. When did you start seeing results?
Juliet: I think we saw the results immediately. I mean we work with you guys every day, and I know you went out of your way to supply us with what we needed.
What was the most impactful change that Fastenal was able to help you make last year?
Yesenia: Having product! Just the fact that we were able to go to you with something as simple as shoe covers and having you being able to use all your sources to find the product for us and ship it, that was huge. We learned through the first few purchase orders, how critical it was for the hospitals, that if you gave us an ETA, it had to be there by that time.
You guys would call us and say, “Hey, this will be there in ______.” And we would get tracking information. So we got to form relationships where you knew how critical it was for us to have on-time delivery. And the product had to be a certain quality as well because, again, we're dealing with hospitals. For you guys to understand all that, it was a big help for us.
What’s your overall take on the partnership with Fastenal?
Yesenia: Fastenal was very critical at the time that our facilities needed the most. They became our go-to for the shoe covers, the gowns, and the gloves. I believe they even worked with corporate. Then we were able to go through our corporate contact as well to create purchase orders directly with our corporate facility. That was such a big, big help. In May or June, when it was hard to get product, Fastenal came through for us.