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May 18, 2020 10:00 PM

Supply chain team helps with distribution of PPE

Throughout the last month, Conestoga’s Magna Centre for Supply Chain Excellence has been working to support distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to primary care physicians in the region, as well as those who care for the homeless.

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Conestoga supply chain specialists are working to help ensure much needed PPE is distributed to primary care physicians and agencies in the region.

"This is a story of how health, education, and industry have come together to keep people protected as they provide front-line health care in this time of COVID-19,” explained Brian Watson, director, Magna Centre for Supply Chain Excellence.

In April, Gloria Cardoso, CEO of the Inner City Health Alliance and part-time faculty member at Conestoga, approached Watson to see how his team could help with PPE distribution. Cardoso had been working with Neil Naik, a local primary care physician, to collect and pool PPE, but there was no distribution methodology in place to predict the consumption and demand of the clinics and agencies they were working with.

Through LinkedIn, Watson put a call out to supply chain graduates and quickly assembled a team of volunteers to assess needs and develop a supply chain solution to serve more than 60 locations in the region with 14 types of PPE.

“How do we know what the demand is going to be? How do we ensure we get the right amount of product to the right location? There was no way to forecast that,” explained Watson. “We took typical supply chain principles and put them into action. We developed a simple approach that could be deployed quickly to get as close to real consumption of PPE as we could and then used that information to distribute product.”

The team moved supplies into one distribution centre, the Westmount Golf and Country Club, and then worked with each location on the distribution list to understand weekly inventory needs as well as consumption so that true demand could be established.

Watson also called on graduate Julie White to develop a unique spreadsheet to track inventory and consumption and establish projections so the team is aware of what to deliver to each location and what the inventory levels are by product and location.

“It was such a relief knowing there’s a methodology in which you can predict demand and then look at supply -- it brought a lot of structure,” said Cardoso.

Naik agrees and said the partnership has had a significant impact on the community.

“These are unprecedented times in terms of what we’re asking the medical community to do. Before this, I could ask my nurse to order gloves and we’d have them the next day. Now, orders for two or three boxes of gloves aren’t being fulfilled because the order is too small,” explained Naik. “Our typical suppliers are no longer there. We’re competing on an international basis to try and get these orders in. We’re all independent physicians so we don’t have a collective voice from a supply point of view.”

Naik said family physicians and walk-in clinics have been able to keep their doors open thanks to the supply chain of PPE that’s been made available -- and that means fewer patients making visits to local emergency rooms.

The agencies that form the Inner City Health Alliance serve those living in vulnerable conditions. Cardoso said the availability of PPE for these agencies has also made a difference given clients need to be served in-person -- virtual visits are not an option.

In an unexpected twist, Watson’s call for volunteers also resulted in a reply from Vietnam. Conestoga graduate Long Nguyen lives and works in Hanoi and indicated he may be able to help with procurement for the team because of the access he has to manufacturers who produce PPE.

“The product certificates are being reviewed now to see if they meet Canadian standards,” explained Watson. “It really is incredible to see how far the Conestoga community reaches.”

Conestoga's supply chain management programs have a proven track record in developing skilled supply chain specialists. Program graduates are well-positioned to add value to firms that hire them, contributing to improved productivity, operational and financial performance.

Visit the Magna Centre for Supply Chain Excellence for more information.

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