Over the past 20 years, HCA Healthcare’s supply chain has continually evolved to meet the needs of our caregivers and patients. Our supply chain is a complex, multi-functional service committed to delivering value and results that improve the patient experience. Read on for a peek behind the scenes…

Bandages and bed linens, cleaning supplies and wheelchairs, IV bags and syringes, X-ray film and printer ink, scissors and scalpels—it takes a lot of supplies to care for patients and keep a hospital humming. Have you ever wondered how HCA Healthcare’s 184 hospitals have supplies on hand when and where caregivers need them?

If you’re imagining a warehouse-like room with boxes stacked to the ceiling, you’d be wrong. The reality of a hospital’s supply chain is that most hospitals stock only what’s necessary for immediate needs. These supplies are dispersed throughout the hospital in well-organized supply rooms that are restocked constantly.

It takes a lot of teamwork, organization and technology to keep the right supplies on hand and up to date—and there’s a lot riding on the expertise of supply chain leaders.

“It all comes down to taking better care of our patients,” says Dayne Foti, supply chain director for affiliate Coliseum Health System in Macon, Georgia. “When we do our jobs well, patients are healthier and happier.”

Dayne Foti, supply chain director for Coliseum Health System in Macon, Georgia

Since most hospital supplies are not stored on-site, the delivery dock is ground zero for supply chain operations. On a typical day, Coliseum Health System, which includes two hospitals, receives 18 pallets of products from a nearby HCA Healthcare warehouse and between 150 and 200 deliveries from medical supply vendors who ship specialty items or infrequently used products directly to facilities.

Foti and his staff of nearly a dozen technicians receive and verify the contents of each delivery. Next, the products are sorted onto carts and transferred to different areas of the hospital, such as the intensive care unit, emergency department or the operating room. Each department has at least one supply room where clinicians can easily acquire what they need.

As the techs stock and move supplies or when someone on the patient care team takes an item, a barcode is scanned and inventory information is updated in the hospital’s materials management system. This automation tracks supply and demand in real time. As supply drops, the supply chain staff knows to reorder and restock the product, whether it’s gauze or exam tools.

For surgeries, the process is a little different. Two days before a scheduled surgery, the supply chain department prints out a “pick list” of supplies needed for that case and gathers all of those items. A gallbladder removal, for example, might have a pick list of more than two dozen items, including a laparoscope (a narrow tube with a camera), forceps, clamps, needle holders, scissors, clips, suctions, knives, retractors, dissectors, gauze and sutures.

“It’s a lot like grocery shopping,” Foti explains.

What’s not in stock gets ordered for overnight delivery. “We purposefully don’t keep a lot of surgical items or medical devices on hand,” he says. “By doing this, we don’t need as much storage space in the OR, and we can keep costs down by only buying what we know we’re using.”

Travis Hagan, supply chain director at affiliate Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Whether an HCA Healthcare facility is on the East Coast, the West Coast or somewhere in between, their supply management processes are largely the same—and that’s by design, says Travis Hagan, supply chain director at affiliate Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“When you walk into a supply room in any facility, you know exactly where to find a product because we designed them to match,” he says. This standardization helps Hagan’s team of just four technicians work more efficiently.

The supply chain department at Southern Hills Hospital is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, but emergencies don’t only happen during the workweek. For areas that operate 24/7, the supply chain department has to ensure their supply rooms are always stocked with necessary products.

“It’s a hospital—no matter how well you plan, there’s always going to be something you can’t plan for,” Hagan explains.

Since unexpected needs are all in a day’s work, HCA Healthcare hospitals work together to get critical supplies into the hands of medical teams. Whether he needs to locate a rarely used product in a pinch, respond to a product recall or deal with an unexpected item shortage, Hagan knows he can turn to his coworkers at nearby HCA Healthcare facilities or to the corporate office in Nashville, Tennessee.

HCA Healthcare hospitals work together to get critical supplies into the hands of medical teams.

Hagan recalls a recent example: “It was late in the day, and we had a patient with a tracheostomy who wanted to be discharged the next morning, but we didn’t have the necessary tube in the specific size. I made a few phone calls to my colleagues at the other facilities in our division, and the right product arrived by courier two hours later.”

This type of support is what enables HCA Healthcare hospitals to weather any storm. Last year, Hagan’s team was tested in the wake of Hurricane Michael, which roared through the Caribbean and struck Puerto Rico. Even though Southern Hills is more than 3,000 miles away from Puerto Rico, the massive storm still impacted the Las Vegas hospital. Many hospital supplies come from Puerto Rico, and the hurricane brought manufacturing and distribution to a screeching halt.

“Our IV solutions came from Puerto Rico, and as soon as the hurricane hit they went on backorder,” Hagan says. “We had about a month’s worth of supply and that was it.”

Enter HCA Healthcare’s Far West Division. “They got involved and began working on the problem immediately,” Hagan says. “They figured it out, and our patients never noticed.”

And that’s the goal. “We’re like stagehands,” Hagan says. “If you don’t see us, that means we’re doing a good job.”

Though the supply chain department’s work may be invisible to patients and their families, Foti encourages his staff to take five minutes each day to reflect on the positive impact they have on everyone the hospital serves.

“There are many different jobs in logistics that any of us could be doing,” he says. “But this is so much more meaningful than moving products from point A to point B. At the end of the day, the hospital can’t do its job without us doing ours.”

HCA Healthcare is one of the nation’s leading providers of healthcare services, comprised of 184 hospitals and approximately 2,000 sites of care, including surgery centers, freestanding ERs, urgent care centers, and physician clinics, in 21 states and the United Kingdom. With its founding in 1968, HCA Healthcare created a new model for hospital care in the United States, using combined resources to strengthen hospitals, deliver patient-focused care and improve the practice of medicine.