The Defense Logistics Agency overcame hurdles to support the nation’s demand for personal protective equipment for at-risk populations early in the coronavirus pandemic.
As one of the U.S.’s most susceptible populations, the elderly became a primary focus of DLA Troop Support’s Construction and Equipment supply chain when the Department of Health and Human Service requested two tranches of pre-packaged lifesaving protective items for 15,455 nursing homes nationwide.
Material shortages, delivery to homes across the nation and urgency made it an unprecedented logistics obstacle, said John Cuorato, chief of the Construction and Equipment Integrated Support Team.
Packages sent to each nursing home contained goggles, face shields, gloves, gowns and face masks, all in unusually high demand, C&E Director of Supplier Operation Tom Page said.
“What made it a bigger challenge was the request to have the items kitted prior to delivery rather than delivered individually as they became available,” he added.
DLA monitored inbound shipments of individual items to kitting locations and conducted quality control checks while operating in socially distanced environments. Packages arrived at nursing homes in June and July and included enough equipment to protect staff and residents from the virus.
Cuorato, who worked closely with the vendor and HHS, said many nursing homes were glad for the emergency supplies.
“The vendor was getting the calls from homes thanking them for the [items] and providing feedback,” he said. “It’s not possible to please everybody with a requirement as large as this, but it felt good to be able to say that we’re going to get you at least something to use.”
The media coverage of COVID-19 and additional supply shortages added to the pressures DLA Troop Support employees faced.
“This was literally on the news every night, and the process was being tracked at the White House level,” Cuorato said. “The landscape of the situation was a nightmare, but it was extremely motivating to know we were helping the staff and residents of the nursing homes.”
Page felt the pressure as well.
“Most people don’t realize how extremely challenging this effort was,” he said. “There was intense management from DLA, engaging the vendor every day of the week to ensure their material availability, production and transportation were in a constant state of operation and improvement.”
Cuorato and his team understood the impact their support had on fellow Americans.
“My grandparents were in nursing homes years ago, and I had the chance to meet some of the people who work there, the vast majority of whom care about their patients. That level of compassion is humbling,” Cuorato said. “I was humbled to be able to help a group of people like that, as well as the families of so many others.”
Although COVID-19 support efforts are still ongoing, Page looks back at the experience with pride in his workforce and mission.
“This effort was different from what we normally do, but our team was proud to step up and help support our nation’s aging population and the compassionate workers who care for them,” he said.