More than two months after Hurricane Ian made landfall as Florida’s deadliest hurricane since 1935, citizens and government leaders are still grappling with severe damage to their communities.
As the fifteenth billion-dollar disaster in the U.S. this year, Hurricane Ian serves as a tragic reminder to federal and state leaders about the critical need to prepare for emergency disasters—before they arrive.
States are often the first line of defense against natural disasters and other emergency scenarios. Some are taking proactive steps to better manage these occurrences. Emergency teams have worked tirelessly to stock personal protective equipment and other critical medical supplies over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now states are transitioning their stockpile strategies from the pandemic era to a resiliency state, to be prepared to respond in the face of any emergency, whether a pandemic, natural disaster, or another unforeseen scenario.
A resiliency state affords the ability to achieve sustained operational supply chain excellence through transparent public-private partnerships. States are now approaching resiliency through a readiness lens, being adequately prepared using forecasting analytics to ensure stockpiles are maintained and rotated, so products like masks, ambulatory equipment, infusion pumps, and other durable medical equipment are ready to use. Without accurate and timely accounting of stored supplies, emergency management teams are unable to determine available inventory, which can lead to supply shortages, unnecessary purchases, and expired items.
Fortunately, some states are taking the lead in developing modern supply chains to bolster stockpiles and distribution networks for critical medical supplies. From our experience working with government agencies, the most advanced states have put in place infrastructure, logistical processes, transportation and product tracking procedures to have a keen eye into and control over supply inventory. Colorado is working to implement a new statute that establishes a program to maintain a supply of face masks, gloves, and other medical-grade personal protective equipment that can be distributed to hospitals, vaccine clinics, schools, community centers and other sites of care if a disaster emergency is declared.
Colorado leaders are now working to have essential materials rotated before the applicable expiration date. The law clearly defines the department managing the stockpile and distribution process so there’s no overlap or confusion. Allowing clinics and community centers, not just hospitals, to operate as point-of-care delivery sites means people can get the critical supplies they need when they need them.
Other states are designing similar initiatives to establish resilient stockpiles, including California, Connecticut and Florida. These programs will serve as good national models because they emphasize the need to monitor product expiration while prioritizing sustainable long-term spending, so stockpiles can be sufficiently maintained. If possible, a stockpile should have sufficient supply to maintain stability until federal relief becomes available or supply chain activity normalizes.
How the federal government can help
It’s not up to the states alone to respond to emergencies – the federal government can and must play a role. Here are three key recommendations the federal government can consider implementing to advance the U.S. toward a resiliency state:
First, the federal government would benefit from serving as a convener for information about emergency preparedness across the 50 states. This would include disseminating the preeminent best practices that have worked nationwide, as well as information about federal resources available to states in the case of emergency.
Second, the federal government should seek sustained funding mechanisms for emergency preparedness initiatives, enabling states to maintain their resiliency posture once the latest pandemic or emergency is no longer front-page news.
Finally, the federal government can look to develop a coordinated response strategy across relevant stakeholders, including government agencies, state and local officials, and private sector partners. There is a staggering amount of information relevant to emergency preparedness efforts. Working closely with partners can help with improved inventory data sharing and product forecasting, as well as coordination of distribution information across state and federal governments.
The COVID-19 pandemic tested the entire U.S. health care system, including the supply chains that provide critical medical supplies to those in need. It also created an opportunity for federal and state government leaders to develop go-forward best practices and strengthen resiliency for the future.
By doing so, leaders can ensure that they are better prepared during the next crisis.
Deborah Haywood is the Vice President of Government Solutions at McKesson Medical-Surgical Government Solutions.