Oct. 1, 2020
James McIntyre is a director of supply chain operations and logistics for CHRISTUS Health in Irving, Texas, where the system is based. His job is to help ensure that CHRISTUS Health's facilities across four southern states and in Mexico, Chile and Colombia have everything in stock that they need, when they need it. That's been especially challenging since the COVID-19 pandemic-related personal protective equipment shortages began early this year. The degree of difficulty increased in the summer as supply chain managers scurried to supply CHRISTUS sites in coastal Louisiana and Texas as a precaution ahead of Hurricanes Hanna, Laura and Marco. It can be difficult to get supplies to areas ravaged by high winds or flooding.
McIntyre spoke to Catholic Health World Associate Editor Lisa Eisenhauer in early September about his experience in keeping the CHRISTUS supply pipeline flowing on the Gulf Coast of Texas in an area that was under hurricane evacuation orders. McIntyre's comments have been lightly edited.
The pandemic first hit the supply chain in about March and we started running into issues. Probably every person that goes in front of a patient, they need the N95 mask and an isolation gown, and those items were being purchased as quickly as they could be by every hospital system and everybody in the world. We had to step in and really negotiate and buy in bulk and build a big stockpile of supplies.
We have an algorithm that assumes every COVID patient is going to probably have 10 clinicians or providers a day. We've been working around the clock to build up our stock and supply and make sure everyone is taken care of.
The disposable isolation gown that everybody uses, come about April, they were pretty much out worldwide, and we were coming up with substitutions. There was a possibility on the table of using disposable rain ponchos. Luckily, we didn't have to go that route, rather we contracted with suppliers for five different types of isolation gowns so we can keep enough stock on hand.
Ahead of Hurricane Laura, members of the supply chain management team were on-site in the CHRISTUS supply warehouse in Corpus Christi coming up with and mobilizing a plan. We were shipping out probably six or eight pallets worth of PPE by Federal Express from Corpus Christi to our facilities in Beaumont, Texas, and then they distribute to Lake Charles, Louisiana. It's just a six-hour drive, I believe, to Beaumont. Federal Express got it to Houston, and they're like, "Well, we're not going to take it any farther."
Federal Express is our partner, and we respect that they can't put their drivers at risk. I believe I saw Beaumont already had a mandatory evacuation in place and they had a citywide curfew going on. So, we respect that they had their challenges, but, at the end of the day, we really want to make sure that the items are there that our clinicians need to take care of every patient. I mean, that's what we're here for.
We had to think and act quickly, and my leadership team and the folks in Beaumont decided isolation gowns were really needed. (Coronavirus) is an airborne virus, so every person puts on a gown when they go into a patient room, whether it be a doctor, a nurse or housekeeping. (Extra PPE is used when treating COVID patients.) I personally stocked supplies in a COVID unit and I had to wear almost the same amount of PPE as the nurses and staff does — I mean, a mask and face shield and everything like that.
So, I'm like, "I'm willing to drive the gowns out there and get them to Beaumont as quickly as I can before the storm hits." I was in a rental car that day, a typical four-door sedan. I had nine cases of these isolation gowns and my car was filled to the brim. I just made the drive from Corpus to Beaumont. And it was pretty incredible, I saw 50 or so buses in Beaumont ready to shuttle people out, and the city was really braced for a storm.
I (made the delivery) and I made it back to the Houston area. I caught about three hours' worth of rest and then headed back to Corpus, because we really had a job at the end to finish in Corpus Christi.
Lake Charles was decimated by the hurricane two days later, so sterile equipment and supplies that were on hand in Beaumont were transported and utilized in Lake Charles where needed. (The city of Lake Charles was without water and electricity following the storm.)
About a month ago, Corpus had a surge on COVID-related patients and they had about four or five ICUs open. My team went from our corporate offices in Irving, the city where we live, and flew to Corpus Christi for a couple of weeks and made sure those units were taken care of. We are definitely meeting this head on.
We 100% respect and we admire the frontline workers, and we are moving in the background to make sure that they feel safe and are being taken care of. We don't want any frontline worker to feel like they're going home and exposing their family (to coronavirus) because they don't have the needed PPE.
In the last week, we've moved 750 pallets of supplies of personal protective equipment from our Corpus Christi warehouse (near Corpus Christi Bay) to (an inland) location very near our corporate offices in Irving. Hurricane Laura (a category 4 storm) and Hurricane Hanna (a category 1 storm) that hit Corpus about a month before, that was some of our motivation. If another hurricane hit Corpus Christi, we might not be able to get any of our PPE supplies out to anyone, so we made this collective decision to move our supplies a little more north.
I've been in health care for almost 30 years, and really, it's a passion to feel that you're helping somebody every day. And having worked on the clinical side – I was an anesthesia technician for 15 years — knowing how important having the supplies that you need are, I do not mind stepping in and getting the job done. We want the nurses and the staff to be able to reach in the bin and the item is there. We don't want them to have to second guess and worry that they're not going to have the personal protection.
One of the reasons I love being a part of the CHRISTUS family is we know that we're meeting a need for people and patients and families. Our patients come to CHRISTUS for a reason, and helping them, at the end of the day, is why I'm here.
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