Einstein Philadelphia Emergency Department staff wearing face shields and masks
COVID-19 Einstein Untold: Unsung Heroes and Unknown Stories

Keeping Einstein Supplied With Scarce Protective Gear

By on 05/26/2020
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One in an ongoing series

Sometimes Matthew Ahern wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep. It’s not an uncommon reaction to the stress of COVID-19.

But Ahern has more reason than most to lose sleep. He’s the head of the supply chain for Einstein Healthcare Network.

That means he and his department are directly responsible for making sure Einstein has enough face masks, gowns, gloves, face shields and other supplies that have become notoriously hard to get. They endure a daily frenzy of competition with hospitals all over the world to get supplies in numbers, and at prices, never witnessed before.

Einstein staff haven’t run out of anything. But they’ve come close. And despite the leveling of cases in the region, there’s been no letup.

“I think we’re pretty close to being stable across the board,” Ahern said of Einstein’s supplies, “but the bottom could fall out at any minute.”

Hunting, Day After Day

Ahern and his staff spend all day, every day, doing outreach on the phone and computer to suppliers, manufacturers, brokers and other contacts so they can restock crucial items whose use has reached unimaginable proportions.

“We’re hunters, that’s what we are,” Ahern says of the constant search for supplies. “I answer 150 to 200 emails a day, and that’s not counting time on the phone.”

Matthew Ahern
Matthew Ahern

Before COVID-19, the hospitals used 8,000 disposable gowns a week. Now, they use 5,000 a day. Before COVID-19, they cost 23 cents apiece; now they’re $3.25 each.

Finding supplies is a never-ending pursuit, which requires resourcefulness and, occasionally, chutzpah.

Tapping Into Relationships

Recently, when the president of an international medical device manufacturer – Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD) – sent an email to its clients worldwide vowing to help them survive the COVID-19 crisis, Ahern took him at his word.

“We’ve always had a great relationship with BD,” Ahern said. “So I sent him an email saying I could use some 10-foot tubing. He actually called me back. He put me in touch with the right person and I got my tubing.”

Before COVID-19 surfaced in February, Ahern met with his staff of nine once every two weeks. In normal times, their job is to procure and manage the hospital’s supplies – oversee purchasing, maintain inventory, scrutinize contracts and all the attendant tasks.

Now they have a phone huddle every morning at 10. Each member of the staff has added COVID-specific tasks to his or her normal responsibilities. At the outset, they instituted a color-coded tracking system to identify the amount of supplies on hand – green, yellow or red.

Ahern has been with Einstein for 20 years and was blindsided by the chaos unleashed by COVID, including the unexpected deluge from hucksters, hustlers and profiteers trying to exploit the crisis to make a buck.

“We get 20 to 25 unsolicited calls a day, mostly from people who’ve never been in the hospital supply business and all of them claim they have a contractor overseas who can ship the products,” Ahern said. “They’re all my best friends, but I never met half of them.”

High-Achieving Staff

Ahern said, though, he isn’t as stressed by the crisis as one might expect because of the outstanding capacity of his staff.

“I can’t say enough about how good a job they’re doing,” Ahern said. He credits their experience and network of contacts – many of them have been at Einstein for more than 20 years – for their success.

“They’re highly motivated and they’re all high achievers. We have this focus of working for the patient. We’re not in there taking temperatures or blood pressure, but if we don’t do our jobs, the nurses and doctors can’t safely do their jobs.”

Sometimes, though, the possibility keeps him awake at night.

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Perspectives highlights the expertise and services provided by the physicians, specialists, nurses and other healthcare providers at Einstein Healthcare Network. Through this blog, we share information about new treatments and technologies, top-tier clinical teams and the day-to-day interactions that reinforce our commitment to delivering quality care with compassion. Here, you will also find practical advice for championing your health and wellness. The Einstein Healthcare Network "Terms of Use" apply to all content on this blog.