3 PPE Procurement Challenges School Systems Face, Potential Solutions

3 PPE Procurement Challenges School Systems Face, Potential Solutions

Strengthening the supply chain to procure PPE and other essential materials

A surge can defeat even the most thoughtful inventory plan. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many school district leaders suddenly realized that they didn’t have adequate access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suppliers, forcing them to attempt to locate essential materials and build inventory during a huge surge in demand.

PPE and other resources have remained in demand throughout the pandemic. They are also a core aspect of school reopening plans, and are foundational to CDC reopening guidelines, which suggest that all school reopening plans address adherence to behaviors that prevent the spread of COVID-19. When used consistently and correctly, for example, cloth face coverings are among important mitigation strategies to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

With so many districts in need, how do we avoid the chaos that many encountered during the spring semester?

By considering the challenges that COVID-19 revealed and using them as a learning experience, we can prevent future shocks and improve supply chain management as a whole for school systems.

Unreliable Access to Essential Supplies

Because of COVID-19, traditional sources for schools, such as highly localized suppliers, were unable to deliver the essential materials that institutions needed to remain operational. As we’ve seen, global and regional surges in demand can massively cripple the supply network.

The pandemic also gave rise to opportunists looking to make a quick profit by promising PPE supplies they could never actually deliver. Many fell victim to these opportunists, who sought to make a profit through price gouging, unrealistic delivery promises and even blatant fraud.

According to the Washington Post, “the international market for desperately needed medical masks is riddled with fraud. Up and down the supply chain, from factories to hospitals, opportunists are benefiting from the chaotic market as prices have quintupled. Rampant price gouging and fraud has provoked dozens of lawsuits and hundreds of cease-and-desist orders, from major mask manufacturers as well as state attorneys general.”

Demand for PPE is going to continue into the foreseeable future – unreliable access is unacceptable. PPE is a core component of CDC school reopening guidelines. A joint statement by leading education and parent organizations, including NEA and the National PTA, said we need to reopen schools in ‘the safest way possible, not the most politically expedient way.’” The group called for a comprehensive plan that includes proven approaches to containing the coronavirus, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and social distancing.

Solution: Forecast Need and Consumption to Meet Demand

The simplest and most effective solution to ensuring access to PPE and other supplies is to identify and designate essential items in advance, and manage those items differently. Supply chain risk management programs identify areas where supply risk or demand surges are likely to occur and help institutions plan accordingly. Oftentimes, recommended solutions come in the form of strategic inventory or reserve capacity.

When demand is high, it is best to have access to a large and diverse pool of suppliers and manufacturers who can provide essential items and deliver them as needed. This strategy not only helps with ensuring access to supplies, but also helps school systems get them at the lowest possible cost.

To achieve this for partners, for example, SDI maintains a brandand supplier-neutral approach within its sourcing and purchasing activities to align with the needs of partners, and currently maintain approximately 6,000 supplier relationships.

Lack of Strategic Reserves and Backups

When the pandemic hit, district leaders realized they didn’t have PPE suppliers because this is the first time school systems need to procure large quantities of PPE equipment, and at a rapid pace. While they may have had existing supply chains established for maintenance and janitorial products, school systems started from scratch in terms of PPE procurement. District leaders were forced to scramble, trying to identify reliable suppliers who could deliver high-demand PPE supplies.

Solution: Build a Backup Reserve

To address demand surges that overwhelm even healthy strategic supplies at the site level, a backup reserve must be provided by a central source. In the absence of an in-house strategic reserve, it’s important to have trusted partners available who can assist – especially during future surges. Consider these benefits.

  • Guaranteed availability of crucial safety stock inventory items and quantities
  • Secured inventory model for essential supplies
  • Not subject to government supply constraints
  • Compressed and consistent lead time
  • Fresh, reliable stock

PPE inventory is perishable, so excessive stocks can quickly transform into obsolete, unusable inventory. Knowing what quantity of resources to order and how often to procure it saves money and time for school districts.

HCP and facilities—along with their healthcare coalitions, local and state health departments, and local and state partners – should work together to develop strategies that identify and extend PPE supplies, so that recommended PPE will be available when needed most.

Outdated or Siloed Procurement and Maintenance process

While procurement isn’t a new idea for school systems, there are complexities that must be considered, such as district size and structure, an article from Spaces4Learning explains, “yesterday’s buyers are today’s procurement professionals, thanks to the tremendous complexities that now arise in buying, inventorying, and managing school district supplies.”

Adding to these complexities is the large size of today’s public school districts.

Most school systems don’t have or use a procurement technology platform. Instead, they rely on a finite set of suppliers, many of which are small and localized, for janitorial and sanitation products.

Additionally, procurement, inventory and maintenance processes are often siloed, and can create conflicts among various district departments. As mentioned in an article from EdTech Focus on K-12, “siloes can lead to misaligned priorities, lack of information flow, reduced morale and disjointed decision making, and [it] may ultimately contribute to the demise of a productive district culture.”

Solution: Review Internal Processes and Find Trusted External Partners

It is important that school districts review their internal procedure and determine if there’s updating that needs to be done. Procurement should be a centralized process that uses modern technology to back it up. Given the complexities mentioned above, it can be valuable for school districts to find an external partner to offer support throughout the supply chain process.

PPE-as-a-Service to make it simple, affordable and efficient for school systems to procure PPE and other supplies. The first step is assessing school systems’ need for resources, including quantitative and qualitative research to understand each district’s unique situation and forecast what consumption could look like.

Through PPE-as-a-Service technology, school systems can achieve a resilient PPE and essential materials supply chain to protect against future supply and demand shocks.

Reimagining Supply Chain Management

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t a temporary concern; school districts must not only address their near-term needs, but also take steps to mitigate risks associated with future outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics.

It is unclear when will be safest for students to return to physical school campuses. But, by thinking ahead and being proactive, school district leaders can ensure that districts have the supplies they need to welcome them back.

This article originally appeared in the November December 2020 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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    March / April 2021

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