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The supply chain team at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago goes all-in to transform one of the most critical aspects of hospital operations
Supply chain, heal thyself. When it comes to building and maintaining resilient supply chains in healthcare, this twist on the ancient proverb is undeniably relevant. As one of the most important aspects of critical infrastructure for hospital systems, ensuring the health of the supply chain has a direct link to providing optimal care and delivering effective treatment outcomes for their patients.
Since its founding in 1882, the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago has given its all to provide unrivaled high-quality care for patients. Then as now, that excellence has depended on the reliable accessibility of the right tools at the right time to be put into the right hands. When the second pandemic in the hospital’s history struck, undercutting that dependability meant putting lives at risk. As crises and disasters often do, the arrival of COVID-19 revealed troubling weaknesses in their supply chain that required immediate correction.
The Supply Chain team at Lurie Children’s was tasked with healing those broken systems, processes, and structures for the benefit of the more than 239,000 children and adolescents treated by the organization every year. True to the organization’s motto of “All, for Your One,” which refers to “all the commitment, all the services, all the care,” they are all-in on the innovation, creativity, and the collaboration necessary to meet the challenges of that never-ending mission.
Recognized Excellence in Pediatric Care
Led by Senior Director of Supply Chain Shelu Bhandari, the team has a history of remarkable performance to uphold. Lurie Children’s is the largest pediatric specialty provider in the region, with a medical staff that includes over 1,800 physicians and allied health professionals in 70 pediatric specialties. Their network, which gives access to exceptional pediatric care for all children, is composed of 17 outpatient services locations, six primary care locations, and 12 partner hospitals, and treats more children insured by Medicaid than any other hospital in Illinois.
It is an organization of firsts: the first hospital in Illinois to be named a Level 1 pediatric surgery center by the American College of Surgeons and the first children’s hospital in the nation and the first hospital in Illinois to earn the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Magnet Award for Nursing Excellence. It also ranks first in pediatric care in Illinois.
The Chicago mainstay is the only hospital in the state to be nationally ranked by U.S. News & World Report in all 10 pediatric specialty categories, including orthopedics, nephrology, pulmonary medicine, gastroenterology and GI surgery, and endocrinology. Three of their specialties made the top 10: urology is ranked sixth; cardiology and heart surgery ranked ninth, as did neonatology; and cancer treatment came in 10th.
Lurie Children’s is ranked ninth in Newsweek and Statista’s first-time rankings of the best 150 pediatric hospitals in the world and ranked highest of any children’s hospital in Illinois. Recently, Lurie Children’s was awarded a place on their list of the World’s Best Specialized Hospitals for 2023.
They are also the pediatric teaching and research partner of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Lurie Children’s is home to the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute, whose stated mission is to “generate new knowledge and translate advancements in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases that affect children’s health through adolescence and adulthood. Our multidisciplinary teams are committed to making discoveries that will improve the lives of children and their families.” The Institute’s studies are led by over 750 researchers and it is one of a very few institutions dedicated to pediatric medicine.
Supply Chain's Healing Prescription: Collaboration
Two of Lurie Children’s supply chain directors joined the institution in the early stages of the pandemic: Kori Pomerantz, the Director of Supply Chain Operations came aboard in May of 2020, followed by Bhandari in June. Katelyn Storton, CMRP, was already in place as Director of Procurement for supply chain. With roughly 20,000 supply chain points of use throughout the network, they faced several challenging scenarios in addition to acquiring sufficient PPE, such as the global shortages plaguing every industry, and existing issues such as an unreliable and distant offsite storage facility.
“We were storing emergency supplies in an unstaffed location outside of town,” Storton said. “That worked before the pandemic, but when we were faced with the new reality of the pandemic, it was obvious that it couldn’t work as efficiently as we needed it to.” Together, the teams developed new processes to remedy the situation including entering a 3PL partnership with a distribution center on the west side of Chicago to store and ship critical supplies to the hospital and offsite clinics on a frequent basis.
As Pomerantz put it, “We had to rethink many processes. I had never worked in a healthcare institution before, and the number of broken processes we faced were daunting. It forced us to be creative, and to collaborate on solutions as quickly and thoroughly as possible.” The process improvements required were intended to better meet the needs of the departments, internal practices, as well as improve compliance and regulatory requirements in how substitute supplies were sourced and distributed.
In healthcare, the vendor ecosystem is inherently complex. Many suppliers and the manufacturers who serve them are offshore, which requires significant advance planning to manage, and the availability of raw materials suitable for making supplies are impacted by any number of disruptions in their supply chains, creating a disastrous knock-on effect on end users. One such early disruption was the extremely limited access to the specialty nasal swabs required to detect coronavirus.
“There were only two suppliers that made the swabs,” Storton explained. “One was an Italian company, and the other was a manufacturer in Maine. We were able to initially get swabs from Maine, but their supply became blocked. We had to get very creative, including considering solutions not historically used in this space such as 3D printing.”
While in the depths of restructuring, Bhandari’s teams were also dealing with the switch to a different enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that had been scheduled prior to the pandemic. Such transitions take years to plan and implement, and impeded progress delays of the promised user benefits, such as the more effective use of data, streamlined back-office processes, and cost savings.
Located in downtown Chicago in the Streeterville neighborhood, the hospital’s operations were further complicated by the civil unrest that began in 2021. The need to protect staff, visitors, and delivery companies became another urgent priority.
The ability to navigate these and many other difficulties required a high level of interdepartmental collaboration. “I am so proud of our teams and their willingness to work together and solve extremely difficult problems,” Storton concluded. “The creativity and dedication of our staff is remarkable. We’re behind the scenes of patient care, but our contributions are truly meaningful.”
Supply chain and procurement professionals in healthcare do not always get the recognition that clinicians do, but in many ways they are as vital to the health and safety of their patients, staff, and community as those involved in direct care. Lurie Children’s pediatric care, as they say, is “No. 1 in Illinois for a reason.” And that reason includes a supply chain and procurement organization that’s all-in on excellence.
Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago provides superior pediatric care in a setting that offers the latest benefits and innovations in medical technology, research and family-friendly design.
As the largest pediatric provider in the region with a 140-year legacy of excellence, kids and their families are at the center of all we do.
225 E. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, Illinois 60611
Phone Number: 312.227.4000
Homepage Link: https://www.luriechildrens.org/