Working with limited essential supplies is not new for rural hospitals. A report from HHS' Office of Inspector General noted that rural hospitals face "special challenges" maintaining normal supplies and restocking quickly when they run out. But as personal protective equipment (PPE) and other needed supplies become increasingly scarce in the United States and abroad, rural hospitals must get creative to find and secure the items they need to care for patients.
The need for rural hospitals is even more pressing now as experts warn that notoriously under-resourced rural communities could be the United States' next Covid-19 hot spot. Rural hospitals, already struggling financially, know the risk their organizations face if their communities suffer an outbreak. If more rural hospitals are forced to shut down, it could exacerbate health disparities between rural and urban areas.
That's why it's vital for rural hospitals to think creatively as they prepare for their own Covid-19 surges. Last week, we covered how rural hospitals can address workforce shortages. This time we'll focus on securing critical supplies.
3 ways rural hospitals can secure critical supplies amid a nationwide shortage
With a nationwide deficit of PPE, rural hospitals feel an even greater pinch as they compete against larger health systems. Even when suppliers promise rural organizations the necessary supplies, shipments can be delayed or never come.
In the face of unprecedented supply chain hurdles, rural hospitals can secure critical supplies by turning to local businesses and centralizing distribution.
1. Tap into the resources and expertise of local businesses eager to help their tight-knit communities. In Batesville, Indiana, a local hardware store offered their recent shipment of N95 masks to Margaret Mary Health, a 25-bed hospital serving 7,000 people. Similarly, the small town of Clifton, Texas had N95 masks used for agriculture. CEO and President of Goodall-Witcher Healthcare, the local hospital, went to local hardware stores, lumber yards, and feed stores to stock up on N95 masks for its workforce.
Looking for more ideas? There are a number of other local non-health care businesses that rural hospitals can connect with in their communities to secure PPE.
2. Coordinate distribution networks to secure PPE that small hospitals may not acquire alone. A local newspaper alerted John Henderson—CEO of Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals—about a shipment of 70,000 surgical masks from Mexico. Henderson purchased them and quickly established an ad hoc supply chain team to distribute the masks to rural hospitals in Texas spread across 10,000 miles. To cover the distance, Henderson delivered the masks to one hospital, which would then arrange to hand off masks to the next, like a pony express.
Similarly, the nonprofit Angel Flights, an organization that usually provides free air transport for passengers in need of medical treatment, pivoted its services to ensure PPE reaches rural areas. It partnered with the Colorado Hospital Association to create a distribution network that delivers critical supplies to remote hospitals in Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas.
3. Leverage emerging online platforms to "swap" supplies with other hospitals in need. Beyond coordinating supply chains, hospitals can use an online platform to swap existing supplies. The Exchange, a platform created by Stanford Health Care, Premier, and Resilinc, matches hospitals around the country with surpluses of supplies for those in need. It helped University of Vermont Medical Center successfully trade its excess of hand sanitizer for face masks with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center; both organizations serve rural patients in the Northeast. Rural hospitals can make these resources last even longer by pooling together resources to sanitize PPE.
The importance of community
The recent supply shortages make it more challenging than ever for rural providers to protect themselves and their patients. But rural communities can leverage their sense of community and resiliency to secure PPE. For more ideas, review our primer on creative ways hospitals are handling PPE shortages.
In our blog post series, we'll review more tactics for rural hospitals, including how they can implement telehealth capabilities and create rural/urban partnerships.
Is your rural hospital implementing strategies to combat the impact of Covid-19? Email Darby Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your experience.