Meeting Supply Needs with Innovative Solutions

When COVID-19 shocked the world in 2020, Greg Raber, then a vice president for supply chain management with a large hospital system in the Southeast, went into scramble mode. Finding enough masks for staff was his No. 1 priority. He never expected a childhood soccer friend to come to the rescue.

That’s precisely what happened, however. During a social Zoom call to catch up with friends, Greg shared his struggle with a close group of fellow goalkeepers.  

A friend on the call immediately offered up a business connection in Colorado that could quickly manufacture the 50,000 masks required.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, it was the Wild West when it came to securing enough personal protective equipment,” Greg recalls. “We were struggling to get masks. This was an outside-the-box approach, but we had what we needed with less than two weeks’ turnaround.”

The impact of creative problem-solving

That type of innovative teamwork for conquering persistent supply shortages became the norm, he says. The experience spawned creative thinking and strategizing and forged lasting professional relationships.

It’s those partnerships that Greg, now Chief Strategy and Development Officer for Advantus Health Partners, believes give an organization the most reliable, dependable supply operation. The lessons learned from the pandemic can help any company pivot to avoid crippling supply chain problems during the next emergency.

“The relationships you build during a crisis are ones you take with you forever. At Advantus, we are focused on collaborative, resilient partnerships. Ones that ensure we’ll have the channels in place to help people prepare and plan,” he says. “If something close to the pandemic’s scale ever happens again, we’ll have dependable relationships that can meet demands. Advantus is poised to help the market.”

Meeting needs in unconventional ways

Once the pandemic hit, the supply chain nearly halted, and manufacturing efforts quickly diminished. Hospitals, health care systems, as well as federal and state governments burned through existing stockpiles far faster than producers and distributors could keep up.

Still, Greg knew he had to find a way to fulfill his primary objective — securing supplies for his colleagues and patients. That meant exploring every possible avenue.

“We were connected with various PPE sources either through relationships in the community or through someone who knew a person who knew someone else that could help. We were doing business with people we’d never done business with before,” he says. “The pandemic revealed the power of networking. It showed the value of being part of a large system of people.”

Over the past two years, Greg has leveraged various relationships. These are some of the most significant efforts.

Language services: Greg’s group received a contract written in Mandarin when trying to purchase 50 ventilators under Emergency Use Authorization. He contacted the leader of the Mandarin Immersion Program at his son’s school. The teacher’s translation revealed the company engaged in attempted price gouging. They were charging $50,000 per ventilator when the actual price was $7,000 each. He worked to find a different domestic source for the ventilators.

Distilleries: When hand sanitizer supply began to run low, Greg contacted local distilleries. Common around the US, local distilleries had shifted their production efforts to make hand sanitizer to meet demands from the local public and hospitals.

NASCAR: Health care workers needed face shields as part of their PPE while working with patients in the intensive care unit. The vice president of development for NASCAR contacted Greg with an offer to produce 3D-printed shields. The racing industry’s engineers and local doctors partnered to produce the protective products.  

These outside-the-box efforts built a stronger foundation for supply distribution going forward, Greg says. Through crisis collaborations, he and his colleagues learned how to avoid the same problems in the future.

“The supply chain is by no means fixed, and it won’t be fully fixed for a while,” he says. “But we’ve learned to adjust. We understand a lot more now.”