Ballad Health moves to shift PPE supply chain from China

Local Coronavirus Coverage

CEO cites "unreliable supply chain" in health system's move to secure a domestic supply chain of personal protective equipment

A worker at a Honeywell International Inc. factory works on N95 masks May 5, 2020, in Phoenix, Arizona, during a visit by the US president. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Ballad Health officials are seeking to establish a domestic supply of personal protective equipment in an effort to secure a more “reliable” supply chain, according to CEO Alan Levine.

Ballad experienced a PPE shortage before the COVID-19 pandemic even reached the region – the health system halted surgeries for a few days in January after a manufacturing facility in China was found to be noncompliant with Federal Drug Administration standards, Levine recalled.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic spurred nationwide shortages of necessary masks, gloves and other equipment, and while Ballad Health never experienced a shortage, Levine said the pandemic pushed leaders to look for other solutions.

Ballad and Premier, Inc. – one of the “world’s largest group purchasing organizations for hospitals,” according to Levine – will be seeking out partnerships with manufacturers to establish a domestic supply chain of PPE.

“We’ve been consulting with other health systems and we’ve all reached an agreement that we need to create on-shore alternatives so the American people don’t rely so much on China for our medical supplies,” Levine said.

While he admitted that American-made products tend to cost a little more than those made in China, Levine said he believes that other health systems committing to purchasing from domestic manufacturers can help secure preferred pricing.

Ballad Health is also an owner of Premier, Levine noted, which would bump Ballad Health to the top of the list for supplies.

“If there was another pandemic or another situation where there’s supply shortages, we as owners will get first dibs on the supplies, which protects the people that we’re responsible for serving,” he said.

Levine said partnerships with manufacturers are in the works, and said an announcement for the first of these partnerships could come as early as next week.

According to a press release from Ballad, about 80% of all PPE supplies are sourced from southeast Asia.

“It’s all about making sure that our people here can access the supplies and that we’re no longer relying too much on one country to provide our supplies for us,” Levine said.

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