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Highlights | Supply and demand

  • COVID-19 changed the way that UW Medicine Supply Chain operates.
  • Those changes have set up Supply Chain teams for Mission Forward success.
  • Renegotiated purchase contracts and a new inventory database have streamlined processes and led to $5.7 million in cost savings.

When COVID-19 left the global logistics network in tatters, everything changed for UW Medicine’s Supply Chain team. They were forced to reimagine the way they did their jobs — devising new systems and cultivating new relationships to ensure care teams had the equipment needed to take care of patients during the pandemic.

“That’s what lowered the water line for us and revealed all the boulders,” says Dan Salmonsen, senior system director for Supply Chain. “And there were a lot of boulders.”

Four years later, their efforts haven’t simply created a more resilient resource network; they’ve also laid the foundation for continued success during Mission Forward.

Supply savings

As of April 2024, Supply Chain has already saved $5.7 million for UW Medicine. Some of these gains come from large, renegotiated contracts — such as $1.5 million in savings on exam glove purchases. Even more comes from dozens of smaller purchases on everything from medical tape to suction tubing.

“When Mission Forward started, we were able to hit the ground running because we’d been doing this work for years already,” says Erik Walerius, chief supply chain officer. “And the thing is, it never went back to the way it was before the pandemic. We still see supply disruptions regularly, but we’ve gotten much better at managing them. It’s rare that our clinicians see a significant shortage of products requiring an unplanned substitution.”

A team of more than 195 people manages upwards of 80,000 individual items, and keeping everything in stock is “like a constant game of whack-a-mole,” Walerius says.

Inventory innovations

Before the pandemic, only a small percentage of supplies were stored on-site because shipments were reliable and consistent. Supplies weren’t even tracked in a central location; each hospital managed its own inventories.

That all changed during the pandemic.

“Now, we actually have a small warehouse that we didn’t have before,” Salmonsen says. “It allows us to stock up on critical pieces of inventory and create a protective buffer in case something isn’t available.”

Supply Chain also built a new unified database to track all of UW Medicine’s supplies, no matter the hospital.

“It doesn’t just show us our inventory. It shows us how frequently each product is used and when we’ll run out of that product,” says Katie Friday, system director for materials and logistics. “If we didn’t have that data, we wouldn’t be able to predict any of this with so much accuracy.”

Salmonsen says they now have weekly meetings with suppliers to talk through potential risks and what’s happening with the shipping industry. They want to know ahead of time if they’re going to have to substitute a product.

“We are supply chain professionals, so we know where to get supplies.” says Kamalpreet Dhillon, system manager for inventory control, materials and logistics. “But we don’t always know how a substitute will be used in clinical settings, so we started meeting regularly with clinicians and figuring it out.”

The last thing anyone wants is to cancel a patient’s surgery because the supplies aren’t there.

“I can’t be on the floor taking care of patients,” says Raven Black, a buyer for surgical services. “But I’m thinking about our patients every time I talk to a supplier. I’ve even asked them, ‘what would you do if this was your loved one?’”

While Mission Forward hasn’t changed the fundamental way Supply Chain operates, Walerius says it’s validated the new approach they’ve taken over the past few years.

“Until Mission Forward, we weren’t out there telling people about this work — we were focused on the next disruption or the next savings opportunity. Now we have a venue to highlight these accomplishments and keep up the momentum to continue finding cost savings and efficiencies,” Walerius says. “I’m proud of the work we’ve done, not just as supply chain professionals, but as partners with our physicians and clinicians. We couldn’t have done it without them.”