GREENSBORO — Some of the most critical work taking place in the local fight against COVID-19 is happening within the walls of a warehouse.
Sounds of forklifts echo in the space as employees busily unpack medical supplies that all Cone Health sites rely on daily for patient care. Others pack shipments to head out on delivery trucks bound for hospitals, surgical centers, physician offices and more.
Cone Health's Tracy Griffin oversees efforts to ensure caregivers have what they need, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. That work has included securing enough masks and other protective equipment as supply shortages were reported earlier this year across the country and is becoming an issue once again as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
"We were already ahead of it," said Griffin recently, as she described the process of learning about what was happening in other countries before the respiratory disease began spreading in the United States. "It was pretty much 24/7. We knew we were at the beginning of patient care."
Her team vetted thousands of products, she said, to determine if they met important quality and safety standards. They also received product alerts from vendors to let them know when items were running out of stock.
"We kept working with our small vendors," Griffin said. "We pre-bought toilet paper. We never ran out of it."
When disinfectant wipes became unavailable, Cone Health produced its own. Boxes of them are stacked in the warehouse, which is a couple of miles from Moses Cone Hospital.
"It's thinking out of the box," said Robert Tastet, who works with Griffin.
Tastet said their team partners with other departments across Cone Health and uses analytics to determine how much of a product needs to be ordered — and how far ahead. For instance, the health system is currently using one million pairs of medium-sized gloves a month.
"It's a constant moving target. If you stay in front of it, you avoid that fear factor" of scarce supplies, Tastet said. "In clinical care, you can't run out."
In the warehouse, Angela Westmoreland fields telephone calls from various Cone Health departments about their supply needs, some of which are urgent.
"I know patients' needs start here in this building," she said. "It could be my mom, my dad, my sister, my brother."
Staff shirts say "Health Care Supply Chain Heroes" — a message relayed to them by Cone Health's top executives, who have stopped at the 111,000-square-foot warehouse to personally thank them.
Wendell Osborne, who also works with Cone Health's supply-chain team, said staff developed a process to look at how events like Hurricane Maria — which struck Puerto Rico in 2017 — could cause possible disruptions with orders. Having a tool like that in place, he said, helped tremendously with navigating impacts from the pandemic.
Osborne and Griffin acknowledge this work requires long hours and a passion shared with the frontline clinicians caring for COVID-19 patients.
"We're going to do what it takes to take care of our community, our clinicians and our patients," Griffin said. "We're like soldiers. We're going to keep at it as long as we need to."
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