As cases of COVID-19 began to rapidly increase in the U.S., the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) skyrocketed in the health care industry. High demand combined with global supply chain challenges due to the pandemic created a nationwide shortage of masks, surgical gowns, and gloves.
Faced with a tremendous challenge, the Kaiser Permanente Support Services team started to think outside of the box on how to source the materials critical for medical workers to safely continue fighting the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
“We probably cold called 50 of the largest retailers and apparel companies in the world,” said Carlos Aguilar, vice president of sourcing for the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. “They stepped in immediately and said, ‘How can we help?’”
“The support from these companies is heartwarming. They have kept our team optimistic and encouraged that we will get through this challenging time.”
Aguilar and his team worked day and night with representatives from Gap Inc., Levi’s, Target, Costco Wholesale, and American Eagle to secure PPE for Kaiser Permanente hospitals around the country.
In the first week of April, Costco delivered over 6 million pairs of Kirkland brand exam gloves with plans to ship 10 million a week after that. Gap Inc. leveraged its global supply chain relationships and connected Kaiser Permanente with vendors producing PPE. The Bay Area-based company has helped source millions of surgical gowns and non-surgical masks.
Target and American Eagle are also helping supply millions of non-surgical masks, which help Kaiser Permanente manage its medical-grade mask supply for staff working directly with patients. Although in its infancy, Levi’s is working to design reusable PPE that can be washed and used multiple times.
“This has greatly mitigated the impact of the shortage,” Aguilar said. “The support from these companies is heartwarming. They have kept our team optimistic and encouraged that we will get through this challenging time.”
Helping Everyone Involved
The partnerships are also advantageous to the retail establishments. As the country faces a severe economic downturn spurred by the outbreak, businesses small and large, particularly clothing brands, have been hit hard. Manufacturing PPE allows them to produce goods during an otherwise stagnant production period.
But more importantly, said Christine Solley, vice president of production for Gap Inc.’s activewear brand, Athleta, was the opportunity to help safeguard the brave physicians and nurses in their efforts to save lives.
“The pandemic is affecting all of us around the globe, and we feel a responsibility to do our part to help in the fight,” she said. “We are committed to supporting our communities and are deeply grateful for the efforts of the Kaiser Permanente medical staff who are caring for COVID-19 patients and keeping the world safe.”
Through careful management of PPE, diligent conservation efforts, and important community partnerships like these, Aguilar said he is confident in Kaiser Permanente’s ability to ensure adequate PPE and medical supplies needed for the screening and treatment of COVID-19 patients. His team couldn’t have been happier to help secure these partnerships.
“My team is not just doing this because it’s their job. They are deeply passionate and believe in our mission and know that what they are doing can help save people’s lives.”
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Kaiser Permanente has also received tens of thousands of masks from numerous organizations including Bank of the West, Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, PG&E, Renewal Foundation, and more. An abundance of gloves, cleaning supplies, and scrubs have also been donated by The North Face, The Clorox Company, and Citi Trends.
To learn more about how Kaiser Permanente, as part of a coalition of private and nonprofit organizations, is ensuring the equitable distribution of critical PPE and other medical supplies to the places they are needed most, visit this webpage.