How Amazon Business Built a Better PPE Supply Chain

The story behind the launch of the Amazon Business COVID-19 relief effort, COVID-19 Supplies, as told by Petra Schindler-Carter, director and general manager for Amazon Business.
Doctors show corona or covid-19 blooding tube wearing ppe suit and face mask in hospital. Corona virus, Covid-19, virus outbreak, medical mask, hospital, quarantine or virus outbreak concept

At the onset of the pandemic, a shortage of personal protective equipment had major consequences for healthcare organizations. It caused some clinics to pause operations and forced frontline workers to go without supplies needed to protect themselves. Many companies and individuals have stepped up to fill this gap. Stories of manufacturers pivoting production to produce essential supplies, nonprofits joining together to form PPE banks, and individuals sewing gowns have shown that together our efforts can make an impact.

As director and general manager for Amazon Business, I knew that we could also play a small part in alleviating supply shortages. That’s why Amazon Business launched COVID-19 Supplies more than a year ago, to get PPE from manufacturers into the hands of those who needed it most.

Looking back: Essential supply shortage threatened healthcare operations

The U.S. is the world’s largest importer of PPE, according to the UN Comtrade Database. So when global demand for essential supplies skyrocketed, our healthcare industry was especially vulnerable to shortages, some of which persist today. As frontline workers operated around the clock to treat patients and save lives, essential supplies depleted to critical levels. Non-hospital organizations — like emergency medical services, independent family physicians, nursing homes and home health aides — were hit the hardest by PPE shortages.

These smaller organizations often lack the resources, storage space and manufacturer relationships to buy in bulk. As a result, supply chain disruptions affect them more than hospitals and larger healthcare institutions, and threaten their entire business operations.

Throughout March 2020, our public health customers continued to inform us of their PPE shortages. I realized that with thousands of customers at hospitals, senior living facilities, local governments and federal agencies, Amazon Business was uniquely positioned to connect public health customers directly with manufacturers of essential supplies.

COVID-19 Supplies provides 200 million goods and counting

As a result, Amazon Business launched COVID-19 Supplies, which leverages our expertise and resources to connect suppliers of essential goods directly with healthcare and governmental organizations. We launched on March 31, 2020, and within the first two months delivered more than 100 million essential health and safety products.

To date, COVID-19 Supplies has reached more than 13,000 healthcare and 7,000 government organizations across 45 of the 50 states — from overwhelmed cities, to difficult-to-reach rural areas not traditionally served by suppliers. We continue to onboard accredited hospitals and government organizations and have shipped more than 200 million items.

Here are a few stories of organizations that have used COVID-19 Supplies to continue their operations and protect frontline workers:

  • The Washington State Department of Enterprise Services secured 1.6 million gloves, and 60,000 respirators and medical masks for its government agencies to help employees and citizens of Washington State.
  • A small hospital in California purchased ventilators on COVID-19 Supplies and received the life-saving equipment from Amazon Air within hours.
  • In Florida, a medical clinic nearly had to shut its doors completely. However, by connecting the clinic with necessary supplies, we helped them remain open and continue serving their community.
  • hand2mind, a provider of learning products for literature and STEM, shifted operations to produce and sell PPE to healthcare workers and hospitals. They were able to distribute their products to a wider audience through COVID-19 Supplies.

COVID-19 Supplies had the added benefit of helping thousands of suppliers and manufacturers like hand2mind stay in business as they shifted production to meet the demand for essential supplies.

Frontline workers still need essential supplies

Even with the work that we and many others are doing to alleviate the essential supply shortage, healthcare organizations are still struggling to access the PPE they need.

According to data from Get Us PPE, 44 states reported they are continuing to experience shortages of necessary PPE, like gloves, sanitation wipes and N95 face masks. The Food and Drug Administration also confirms gowns and gloves remain in short supply.

And while ongoing vaccine distribution efforts are a sign that hospitals, clinics and other organizations will not become as overwhelmed as in the past, we are still a long way from a full recovery.

Organizations consume PPE and essential supplies at higher rates than they did prior to the pandemic — and likely will continue to do so into the future. Additionally, future waves of infection will likely cause surges in PPE demand.

Manufacturers need PPE buyers, too

Many suppliers actually have a surplus of PPE inventory right now, but are struggling to connect with new buyers. To overcome the ongoing supply and demand mismatch, the supply chain needs to become more agile.

Online B2B supplier models facilitate these transactions and help manufacturers provide essential supplies to smaller organizations in need. E-commerce with real-time data analytics capabilities also enables suppliers to better forecast periods of demand, so they know when it’s time to consider additional sources for materials or slow down production.

I hope the story of COVID-19 Supplies reminds distributors and manufacturers of the necessity of agility and innovation in the supply chain. By forming partnerships and leaning on technology, we all benefit. Sellers can more effectively deliver their products, and PPE can be more accessible to organizations that urgently need essential supplies.

Petra Schindler-Carter is director and general manager of Amazon Business.

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