VAMC Manchester, New Hampshire
Safe Healthcare for Veterans and Frontline Staff
VA secures scarce PPE through Strategic Partnerships and Patriotism
In March, the Secretary's Center for Strategic Partnerships began efforts to realize a first-of-its-kind strategic partnership to secure scarce personal protective equipment (PPE) with entrepreneur and inventor Dean Kamen, the state of New Hampshire and its National Guard. The mission promised massive shipments of PPE.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) work is ensuring the safety of the Veterans we serve and our workforce. Before any clinical care is delivered, safe infrastructure and support must be in place. A key element in that infrastructure is PPE.
Securing PPE and safeguarding its accessibility across the organization is among the department’s highest priorities and will continue to be throughout the COVID 19-pandemic. Supply of this now scarce resource allows the department to properly equip and protect our frontline healthcare associates and veteran care to continue. The global demand for PPE continues to place unprecedented stress on the supply chain. VA’s success in having an ample supply of PPE can largely be attributed to this unique partnership and our ability to execute, courtesy of our brightest and most skilled workforce.
“As trusted and effective stewards of government resources, VA had to think strategically and work efficiently,” said Deborah Scher, Executive Advisor to the Secretary, who leads the Secretary's Center for Strategic Partnerships. “This is exactly the kind of big, bold and impactful work the department is uniquely suited to carry out and it is aligned with our shared passion to save lives.”
Success! VA and the state of New Hampshire National Guard have received PPE via 8 FedEx flights with another half dozen planned. (Watch the courtesy PPE receiving video from the New Hampshire National Guard.) These PPE flights delivered 4.5M masks, 3M gowns and 20M gloves. Separately, a like partnership with the state of New Hampshire garnered 7M test swabs for national dissemination.
Image: Daniel Cutsinger of VHA Procurement & Logistics who flew into New Hampshire to inspect a recent PPE delivery.
“What we are doing in New Hampshire is unusual and we needed to work creatively to make sure we have PPE for clinicians, housekeepers and the entire workforce. There are a lot of contracts in place to supply the department. Unfortunately, many are not able to perform as they are operating under just in-time conditions relying on national and international supply chains never designed to handle this volume of demand,” said Deb Kramer, Acting Assistant Under Secretary for Health for Support Services. “I am in awe of the department as a whole and how we are stepping up, but I am also especially proud of our Procurement & Logistics, Engineering, Facility and Occupation Health and Safety folks who are all involved. Everyone is out of their comfort zone and there isn’t anyone who hasn’t raised their hand to do more.”
This goliath effort required on-ground inspectors, payment coordinators, project management, legal reviews, expertise in communication, a host of many other professionals and a united approach directed at the highest levels of the organization.
“When VA Secretary Robert Wilkie first reached out to me, I knew this was a mission New Hampshire could take on,” said Governor Chris Sununu. “We owe those on the frontlines taking care of our Veterans the protection they deserve. I give a lot of credit to Secretary Wilkie for leaving no stone unturned in his search for equipment, and I am honored that the State of New Hampshire can continue to help VA hospitals across the country with securing lifesaving PPE.”
The PPE strategic partnership required an internal process to ensure occupational safety and health standards as well as product specification compliance prior to VHA placing an order. When acceptable PPE is identified, it is airlifted to Manchester/Boston Regional Airport via FedEx where an on-ground interim inspection takes place upon its arrival. The interim inspection is performed by seasoned VHA Procurement & Logistics staff and includes a random box sampling complete with photos of all exterior sides of the box and its contents including any literature. The box is then sealed, integrated with other boxes from the shipment and hand-loaded onto the trailers by the FedEx and NH National Guard. On-ground transportation of the shipment is coordinated through the Transportation and Relocations Division, LSS Office of Procurement Acquisitions and Logistics (OPAL) for delivery to the Health and Human Service (HHS) warehouse in Maryland. When the trucks arrive at the warehouse the boxes are off-loaded and counted, placed on pallets and the contents are verified through a standardized Quality Assurance (QA) review to ensure applicable FDA and/or NIOSH standards are met. Once shipment is entered into the inventory system it is ready for the payment authorization process which empowers VHA to reimburse the State of New Hampshire. The process is efficient, compliant and supports zero risk to the government, as no government funds are used until after the QA review.
Image: VA 4th Mission Deployment Team safely equipped with PPE to deliver care. Left to right: Edith Munoz, LNA, (VA Manchester) Arnoldo Cruz-Ayala, RN (kneeling) (VA Manchester), Morgan Wilkinson, RN (VA Travel Nurse), Suzanne Mowery, RN, Diane McGehee, LPN (VA Bedford), Luke Rock, RN (VA Providence) and Elizabeth Smith, RN (VA Manchester)
National VA PPE distribution is prioritized based on mission-need and location. VHA’s response to COVID-19 demonstrated the strength and agility of an integrated healthcare system geographically distributed across the United States and operating as a single enterprise. As COVID-19 incidence varied by location, VHA was able to sustain operations in locations experiencing high demand due to COVID-19 (e.g., New York City, New Orleans) by cross-leveling staff, PPE and ventilators from areas with low levels of disease.
“The exercise in necessity showcased the department’s ability to work as a single team, much like a military operation. Support Service doesn’t directly touch Veterans,” said Kramer. “I am an Army Veteran and I feel like I have deployed again. Deployed forward and making it happen –along with everyone from the field to the level of the Secretary. The experience has been very meaningful for me.”
Outside these extraordinary efforts spearheaded by the Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships and led by VHA Procurement & Logistics to secure PPE, they also continue to be the grit behind all we accomplish during this pandemic and beyond. They ensure facilities have medical equipment, cleaning supplies, essential and non-essential items. While unseen, they are the unsung heroes, working to ensure the wellness of our nation’s Veterans.
Contributed by the Office of the Secretary, Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships and written by Kristin Pressly, Public Affairs Officer, Manchester VA Medical Center.
Special note of recognition:
VA’s collaboration with Dean Kamen, Governor Sununu, NH National Guard and FedEx supported a deft PPE supply ensuring safe health care delivery for the Veterans who entrust VA with their care. The team are collective heroes for their contribution to the overall safety of our nation.
The department extends its gratitude for the service of our VA workforce many of whom are Veterans themselves.
VHA Procurement & Logistics
Patrick Pianalto, P&LO, Advanced Supply Chain Branch
Dan Cutsinger, Project Manager
Heather Waldron, Project Manager
Greg Atchley, Project Manager
Eric LeClerc, Project Manager
Theresa Draisey, Project Manager
Joseph Boggs, Project Manager
Kim Huff, Project Manager
Mike Cho, Chief Operating Officer
VA Central Office Field Support Branch (FSB)
Dan Lampi, Project Manager
VA New England Healthcare System
Rick Collins, Supply Management Specialist
Office Information Supply Chain Operations Program Office
Norwin Fischer, Project Manager
Nicholas Sparks, Supervisory Contract Specialist
Office of General Counsel
Robert Fleck, Chief General Counsel
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Health Administration
Angela Billups, Executive Director,
OALC & VA Chief Acquisition Officer
Karen Brazell, Principal Executive Director
Operations Planning and Readiness
Juan Cosme, Director of Operations Planning and Readiness
Office of the ADUSH for Administrative Operations
Debbie Gramlick, Executive Assistant
Office of the Secretary, Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships
Deborah Scher, Executive Advisor to the Secretary
Ashleigh Barry, Senior Advisor, Communications/Partnerships
Health for Support Services
Deb Kramer, Acting Assistant Under Secretary for Health for Support Services