Baptist will burn through 400K gowns in less than month

By , Daily Memphian Updated: August 17, 2020 4:00 AM CT | Published: August 17, 2020 4:00 AM CT

John Finger has worked countless Saturdays since the pandemic began, including yesterday when he was at Memphis International Airport to meet the MD-11 that Baptist Memorial Health Care chartered from China.

It was loaded with hospital gowns — 400,000 of them packed in giant bales that rolled out of the belly of a FedEx plane like treasure.

Baptist, with its 22 hospitals, is burning through 15,000 gowns a day. At that rate, the delivery will last 26.6 days.

“Buying product directly from China is very unusual for us,” said Finger, Baptist’s director of supply chain. “We had never done that before.” 

This shipment came from Ning Cai (Xiamen) Garment Co. Its website now features an extensive list of COVID protective gear.

Since February, Finger’s job has been a worldwide seek-and-find mission, layered with math and prognosticating.

“We monitor all PPE every day,” he said. “I have to report out, on a per-hospital basis, how many days of inventory they have of each PPE item — gowns, gloves, N95 masks, swabs.”

With a weighted running average, he began searching the world for suppliers.

Running the supply chain for Baptist has never been like this, he said.

“When I tell people we have a million gloves coming in, they say, ‘Wow, that should hold you for a while,’” he said. “No, not at our current burn rate. I need to hurry to get another order in the pipeline.”

Baptist is using 150,000 pairs of gloves a day.

“I never thought I would be worried about gowns and masks,” said Finger, who works weekends in this upstairs home office.

Chartering the plane cost upward of six figures, but it was actually a savings for Baptist, he said, because the manufacturer helped with shipping costs.

But Finger can’t count on that going forward. His goal is to have enough supply on hand to be able to ship by boat, which takes 30 days, plus manufacturing time.

“We are trying to get enough orders in the pipeline to get ahead of the curve,” he said. “We are pretty comfortable now, but I want to get well ahead of the curve so we are ready for this upcoming surge everyone keeps hearing about.

“We have another plane coming soon; that is the plan.”

The problem every supply chain manager in the world is dealing with is that COVID came with no warning.

CEO says FedEx will stay on cutting edge

Quickly, distributors had to limit which each account could purchase.

“That doesn’t work when you have this COVID situation, which is overly increasing our patient load, our headcount,” Finger said.

Besides staying abreast of burn rates, Finger’s job suddenly included finding PPE manufacturers, which meant competing with every other supply chain manager.

Baptist nursing school now a university, adding second graduate program in ‘21

“Everything kept leading us back to China,” he said. “We used a broker that we had used in the past to help us source product from a couple of China factories.”

“It’s not like pre-COVID, when I could order from Cardinal Health, and it is delivered tomorrow,” he said. “All of a sudden, I am faced with dealing with 30-day lead times.”

And rising prices.

“When the distributors could no longer supply, people started coming out of the woodwork -brokers and such - claiming they could get us product,” he said.

Finger’s question to them all was: “How is it that you can get us these exact same masks when the original manufacturer couldn’t?

“And by the way, they wanted to charge four times the price. We’re up to ten times the price now.”

For this shipment, the broker got the product through customs in China, he said.

Heads of city’s 3 major hospitals discuss COVID surge readiness

“FedEx was spot-on when they said the plane would be there,” he said. “I am thankful FedEx has been there to support us.”

In his annual letter to shareholders last week, Frederick W. Smith, chairman and chief executive officer, described the company’s response to COVID as “one of the largest airlifts since the Berlin airlift of 1948.”

The U.S.-led Berlin airlift moved more than 2 million tons of essential supplies to the people of West Berlin after the Soviet Union blocked road access to Russian-occupied East Germany in June 1948.

In the fourth quarter, which ended May 31, FedEx moved more than 36,000 tons of personal protective equipment, including about 1.5 billion masks.

It added weekend flights to move test specimens within the United States and arranged more than 100 charter flights and 1,000 ocean containers of PPE through FedEx Logistics. It also facilitated more than 7,300 humanitarian aid shipments.

Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do

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John Finger Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. COVID PPE supply chain FedEx Corp.
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers healthcare and higher education for The Daily Memphian.


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