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Supply Chain Team Quick, Creative Amid Pandemic

By Crystal Ross O'Hara on April 14, 2020 in University

Quick Summary

  • Personal protective equipment is biggest challenge; campus donations help
  • Team members “turn over same rock several times a day,” scour the internet, make cold calls
  • Need swabs for testing? An employee’s search of old AggieBuy orders found a supply on campus

Under normal circumstances, UC Davis Supply Chain Management’s Strategic Sourcing unit is low-profile, working behind the scenes to create value for the campus. Team members build relationships with suppliers and leverage UC’s buying power to lower costs while negotiating strategic agreements for quality products and top services.

But Strategic Sourcing is anything but low-profile amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has disrupted the supply chain worldwide. Together with Procurement and Contracting Services, Strategic Sourcing has responded quickly and creatively.

The biggest challenge has been sourcing personal protective equipment, or PPE, such as masks and gloves, along with hand sanitizer and disinfectant and other supplies related to protection from and research into COVID-19. See “The PPE Equation” below to learn how Supply Chain Management is inventorying personal protective equipment and calculating which areas on campus and at UC Davis Health have the most critical needs.

Factories in Wuhan, China, a major manufacturing area for PPE, are just now beginning to come back online after the coronavirus first emerged in that region late last year. World demand is high, as expected, making large orders difficult to secure.

The situation is constantly changing, said Mike Morgan, associate director for Strategic Sourcing at Supply Chain Management. “The environment is so fluid, so dynamic, so challenging,” he said. “That’s our life right now.”

A request to a supplier made at 8 a.m. may be denied for lack of inventory, he said, but just a few hours later that same supplier may have received the requested stock. Campus buyers are constantly working the phones, reaching out to suppliers to see what may be available.

“We’re turning over the same rock several times a day,” Morgan said.

Digging deep

While campus operations have been suspended, essential work continues — including COVID-19-related research. That means sourcing supplies for new projects, in addition to finding high-demand PPE and continuing to support other vital areas on campus that remain open, like animal care and student services.

Man stands next to stack of supplies in warehouse.
Mike Sandoval, senior lead laborer for Special Services. (Jennifer Carmichael/UC Davis)

A few weeks ago, buyers were following their usual processes, working with partner suppliers to source items such as tents and generators for a triage area, if needed, at the Student Health and Wellness Center, as well as hand sanitizer and, of course, PPE.

But those sources soon dried up, said Julie Alvarez, life sciences sourcing manager. “We had to go to the next level — the diverse small and medium-sized suppliers,” she said. “They really came through.”

When those sources were no longer able to provide supplies, the sourcing team began scouring the internet and cold-calling potential suppliers, something that would be highly unlikely during normal operations.

Like home shoppers trying to find toilet paper on Amazon, campus buyers are also running into inflated prices, particularly for products found on the internet, said Daisy Tom, a life sciences procurement analyst. She recently found masks for $3 apiece, about three times their usual price. While Tom declined the offer, she informed UC Procurement at the Office of the President of the availability, so that the information could be shared among UC campuses and medical centers.

“It really depends on how in need (a campus) is,” Tom said. “Maybe $3 a mask will hold you over until another order comes in.”

Everyone is pitching in

Morgan, the associate director for Strategic Sourcing, said he worried about burnout among his team members, considering their long hours and the extra challenges of working from home, and with so much riding on their ability to source items.

But the team is buoyed by even the smallest of wins, as well as acts of kindness, he explained, referring to PPE donations by campus units and the public, too, relieving some of the pressure off the team.

And this is where another part of Supply Chain Management comes in: Distribution and Logistics, which is busy receiving shipments, and organizing and distributing the goods, while also taking in PPE donations and deliveries normally sent to campus departments.

The collection so far totals 5,860 surgical masks, 2,930 N95 masks, and numerous other critical items like isolation gowns, face shields, gloves and cleaning supplies — all for UC Davis Health.

And when PPE cannot be found, it can sometimes be manufactured on a small scale — or not-so-small scale. For example, student employees at the Craft Center started making face shields April 2, and they have a goal of producing 10,000.

Environmental Health and Safety provided information on materials needed to create the shields, Strategic Sourcing found the supplies and Campus Recreation provided the space and student-power. See separate story.

“It’s these kinds of things that keep you going,” Morgan said. “It just puts a spark under me.”

Supporting UC Davis’ mission

Strategic Sourcing doesn’t just wait for donations to come in. Team members go looking — like they did last week to find swabs for UC Davis Health to use in diagnosing COVID-19. The swabs have become increasingly difficult to find, as testing efforts ramp up.

Alvarez searched through old AggieBuy orders and found that the One Health Institute at the School of Veterinary Medicine had placed orders for the swabs in the past, which are also used for diagnosing illnesses in marine mammals. She reached out to the One Health Institute and it donated 400 of the swabs to UC Davis Health.

As always, and when it matters most, the UC Davis community comes together to solve problems, serve the community and conduct life-saving research.

“I am super proud of our sourcing and buying teams in working diligently to identify sources for COVID-19 related critical materials,” said Tim Maguire, assistant vice chancellor for Supply Chain Management. “Our ability to identify and source these materials in a high-demand market speaks to the skills and dedication of these individuals.

“Through their efforts, the campus is better prepared to protect our students, staff, researchers and faculty, and continue the university’s mission.”

The PPE Equation

In addition to sourcing much-needed supplies for the campus and UC Davis Health, Supply Chain Management is also working to determine how much personal protective equipment, or PPE, is on hand, how much is being consumed and how much will be needed in the future.

To help in the process, Supply Chain Management has created this online PPE registration form to collect information about each unit’s operations, including contact information, numbers of people working and what type and how much PPE is needed. Within each department, on campus or at UC Davis Health, the person who maintains the PPE inventory complete the form.

With this information, coupled with the PPE Burn Rate Calculator (a tool provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to figure how quickly supplies will be depleted, based on number of COVID-19 patients being treated), Supply Chain Management can determine which areas of campus and UC Davis Health have the most critical needs.

“For those units that need or use material, we want to assess their existing inventories and determine what they will need over the next few weeks and potentially longer,” said Tim Maguire, assistant vice chancellor for Supply Chain Management. “That way we can evaluate each of these requests in light of others to distribute our limited inventory appropriately.”

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About the author(s)

Crystal Ross O'Hara Crystal Ross O'Hara is the client relationship manager in Supply Chain Management.

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