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Intermountain Healthcare: Utah center 'well-stocked' with medical supplies in case of disaster

MIDVALE — Following a catastrophic natural disaster, the challenge of supplying hospitals and clinics with adequate medical equipment morphs from a foregone conclusion to a question of life and death for some patients, say officials at Intermountain Healthcare.

The organization's leaders said Tuesday they are confident that the centralized location of their medical products hub in Midvale, and the mountain of resources consolidated there, leave Utah in good hands in case of a calamity.

"We're well-stocked and staffed for this sort of event," said Gordon Slade, director of supply chain logistics at Intermountain Healthcare, referring to a disaster on the scale of Hurricane Harvey.

In the aftermath of Harvey, the wrath of which many in southeast Texas have described as unprecedented, the well-being and functionality of hospitals themselves has become a paramount public safety topic, with mixed results, the New York Times reported Monday.

Intermountain is watching closely to see what works and what doesn't at various medical facilities affected by the hurricane, Slade said.

"You always want to learn from those things," he said. "We obviously want to learn from (the) hospitals down there."

Showing reporters around the 327,000-square-foot Intermountain Kem C. Gardner Supply Chain Center on Tuesday, Slade said the building is consistently equipped with enough medical equipment to get the right materials to the right Intermountan hospitals and clinics within 48 to 96 hours without help from any outside disaster-response agencies.

When those assisting agencies arrive, Slade said, "they've got the reins, but we've got the infrastructure (ready)."

The center holds 5,000 types of items to disrtibute, with up to a 30-day inventory for some supplies. Products that are distributed from the building are as diverse as the medical field itself, consisting of everything from sizeable portions of toilet paper and hand sanitizer to medical implants, Slade said.

"Everything from toilet paper to helicopters is sourced out of here," he said.

Finding all that medical inventory in one central location is something "you don't typically see in other hospital systems," he said.

"This facility is an integral part of the Intermountain response" to a disaster, Slade said. "There's not too many large, integrated health care systems that have the supporting infrastructure like this."

More typically, large hospital systems rely on various distribution centers in assorted locations, at times with some of them not in the same state, according to Slade. He believes the strength of having one major center lies in immediately having the entirety of Intermountain's available inventory on hand in a disaster — and its natural fit to become "our own command center."

To guard against the strength of a centralized location quickly devolving into weakness if the building's structure were compromised, the supply chain center was designed to endure an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter Scale, Slade said.

Intermountain said in a release describing the distribution center that a severe earthquake or major winter storm are among the biggest natural threats in Utah, with flooding at the magnitude seen in Texas being more improbable in the Beehive State.

Slade added the center is also equipped with sufficient generators and has enough fuel on hand to keep delivery workers on the move regardless of what happens elsewhere.

"We can sustain ourselves," he said.

Intermountain leaders, including logistics officials, also keep up to date on backup communication strategies, including radio use, in case of breakdowns in the regular infrastructure. The center's continuing function after a catastrophe would be a critical goal of any such emergency communication, Slade said.

"We coordinate as a system how we're going to execute and how we're going to handle ... emergenc(ies)," he said.

The center, which was constructed in 2012 and distributes about 2.5 million items per year, was not built solely with emergency preparedness in mind, Slade said. The cost-saving economies of scale made possible by the center as well as the improved distribution efficiency are also critical reasons for its existence, he said.

Intermountain said in a release that the center is a one-stop shop for all the operations relating to Intermountain's clinicians and caregivers use — from negotiating contracts with suppliers to warehouse storage to transportation logistics.

The largely automated center employs just more than 50 workers. Automation technology there helps ensure accurate distribution and cost savings, said Peggy Lee, a communications executive for Intermountain's supply chain operations. But the organization also equips distribution employees with the expertise to carry on all of the center's services even if the robotics break down in a disaster, Lee explained.

"We have this beautiful automation and people (balance) to ensure we would be fully operational" in the midst of a catastrophe, she said.