Supply Meets Demand: A Call for Creativity and Resourcefulness

Natalie Koriath, director of operations, OurHealth

When an Amazon box arrived at my house in mid-January, I was surprised to find three boxes of N95 respirator masks, as this was very different from my typical Amazon order. I soon realized that the package was actually addressed to my husband who was preparing for a business trip to Dubai in early February. In response to the emergence of COVID-19 and the lack of N95s in Dubai, he had ordered some for a business partner there.

Remember those days – when we heard reports about COVID-19 but were blissfully unaware of what it would come to mean for us in only a few short weeks?

Fast forward into mid-March when the United States went into a tailspin of consumers purchasing every mask in sight – a very different outlook from only a couple of months prior, when that Amazon package arrived at my doorstep.

The combined organization of OurHealth and Marathon Health began securing personal protective equipment (PPE) and quickly discovered all our normal sources were completely dry. We began to start sourcing PPE to protect our own clinicians through every imaginable supplier – dental and veterinary suppliers, hardware stores, random web sites, local health collaborations, personal connections, you name it.

Interestingly, it didn’t take long for unexpected PPE suppliers to come out of the woodwork – companies who were able, quickly pivoted to begin importing medical supplies, with seemingly little past knowledge or understanding of the supplies themselves. It truly became a community effort.

When securing PPE through these unusual avenues, three major themes always played into our decisions:

Quality

When it comes to the wellbeing of our employees and patients, we simply cannot sacrifice purchasing quality products. We’re mitigating this risk by only purchasing from FDA approved facilities – though there are many variations on levels of PPE, we are evaluating each product to ensure it meets CDC guidelines.

Speed

Many PPE products are manufactured in Chinese factories, which have been impacted by COVID-19 and may not have the normal throughput capabilities. While this was a potential constraint early on, more recently, the major speed constraint has been the physical movement of materials. Many companies stopped new shipments out of the country in order to work through backlogs.

Cost

Supply and demand is in full effect and many products are easily 3-4x normal pricing. While this is a cost of doing business now that we have to accept, there is a balance between stocking up, in preparation, and waiting and hoping that the stresses on the marketplace lessen to allow normal pricing and availability.

In summary, I am excited that we’ve landed on a few suppliers that balance the quality/speed/cost triangle and are positioned to deliver a robust supply of the necessary PPE to protect our clinicians and patients in the coming weeks, as OurHealth and Marathon Health look forward to opening our doors more broadly!