Supply Chain Workers Play Essential Role in Coronavirus Response

Northwell Health distribution center
Northwell Health distributes medical supplies across its network of hospitals from its facility in Bethpage, N.Y. (Northwell Health)

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Employees at Northwell Health’s 85,000-square-foot distribution center often joined together to watch the success stories as COVID-19 patients left Northwell’s hospitals, with many workers getting tearful as they realized the critical role they were playing in the health care supply chain.

“We’re a distribution center,” said Paul Spodek, assistant vice president of supply chain distribution and logistics at the Northwell Health Integrated Distribution Center in Bethpage, N.Y. “We’re not clinicians, but the thing we point out as we look at those videos is the bouffant cap, the isolation gown, the N95 masks, the booties and the gloves. We remind all of our associates, our employees and our drivers that all of those items came from us.”

Northwell Health, which operates 23 hospitals, is the biggest health care employer in New York state. The health care provider partners with Penske Logistics for its transportation.

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“We did the receiving, the pick, pack and ship, and the Penske drivers did the deliveries. What goes on behind the scenes is such a key part of the whole health care process,” Spodek said.

Those within distribution centers and warehouses had to act fast as they worked to keep supplies moving, Spodek said.

Ammie McAsey, senior vice president of distribution operations at McKesson, said the company integrated additional automation in its distribution centers to supplement the human workforce, which allowed McKesson to provide uninterrupted service to customers even during demand spikes.

In May, a McKesson distribution center in Dallas received a crucial call from American Medical Response, which needed next-day delivery of 81 oxygen tanks for their crew and ambulances being deployed to COVID-19 hot spots in New York and New Jersey.

“Team McKesson jumped into action and pulled together a multidepartment crew that immediately took the job to heart and formed a fast-paced assembly line,” McAsey said, adding that within 30 minutes, the team boxed and packaged all 81 tanks.

As part of virus testing, Health Mart, McKesson’s independent pharmacy chain, is participating as a collection site in partnership with eTrueNorth, a contractor of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to provide access to COVID-19 tests.

COVID-19 testing supplies, protective equipment and customer support materials were consolidated at one of McKesson’s distribution centers and shipped directly to each participating Health Mart across the United States. “McKesson’s hub-and-spoke distribution network has enabled inventory to be deployed to hot spots on a daily basis,” McAsey said.

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