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Racing to Rebuild

Published in: The Charlotte Business Journal

Shortages in personal protective equipment stunned health systems nationwide when the pandemic hit. In response, Charlotte-area providers found new suppliers and adjusted inventory levels to keep ahead of the virus.

The months-long — and still ongoing — collection efforts mean Charlotte is in a better position to handle case surges.

It’s a change from the initial panic. Covid-19 brought unexpected hurdles, revealed weaknesses and called normal procedures into question. PPE usage climbed while production stalled for some manufacturers. Imbalanced supply and demand strained markets and rattled the health industry’s confidence when it was needed most.

For example, U.S. hospitals and health systems normally buy 22 million N95 masks per year. A year ago, demand surged by 400%, according to a Premier Inc. study.

“I always refer to it as the dark days of March and April. We were dealing with not only learning about the disease that we’re all facing, but also dealing with the challenges of, frankly, the entire global supply chain shutting down,” said Andy Brailo, chief customer officer at Charlotte-based Premier.

This month’s higher case counts continue to test PPE reserves. More than 80 North Carolina counties are in the red category, meaning they have critical community spread. The state’s total cases blew past 600,000 in early January. Daily hospitalization numbers have long been in the thousands.

PPE is a key component in fighting Covid-19. Patient and employee safety remains a priority. The pandemic, however, significantly altered expectations on those supplies.

Local health providers are attempting to avoid last year’s pitfalls with larger stockpiles and more diverse sourcing. That is while also navigating elevated prices on supplies and, more recently, a shortage on exam gloves. Here’s a look at where PPE supplies stand, what challenges are ahead and how Charlotte’s health-care industry is adapting for a post-pandemic world.

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