Transportation challenges have become a major healthcare issue. Today, medical supplies take an additional 37 days to reach hospitals, nursing homes and physician offices. This threatens providers’ ability to care for patients. The Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA) recommends a “fast-pass” system that would help to solve this problem.
Hospitals and other care settings depend on a reliable U.S. transportation system to receive critical medical supplies and equipment. An unpredictable system negatively impacts patient care and public health. Essential medical supplies and equipment need a “fast pass” through the transportation system to support COVID-19 response, flu season, and necessary surgeries and treatments that were delayed due to the pandemic.
HIDA members reported an average delay of 37 days has been added to the transportation of medical products. To put that in a holiday perspective, medical supplies arriving at a U.S. port on Christmas Eve won’t be delivered to hospitals until February 2022.
That is why HIDA is recommending the creation of a “fast pass” system to expedite medical supplies throughout the nation’s transportation system. We as a country cannot allow cargo that is essential to treat patients and protect healthcare workers to wait in line during a public health emergency. Medical supplies and equipment must get into the hands of healthcare providers and frontline workers more quickly and efficiently.
BREAKING THE BOTTLENECK: FAST PASS FOR MEDICAL SUPPLIES
Public and private stakeholders should be convened to identify a fast pass prioritization process to efficiently move product. The entire U.S. transportation system from ports to rail to trucks to small parcel carriers should be included.
Such a “fast pass system” would consist of three key components
- Expedite global transportation of essential medical products
- Identify containers of critical supplies
- Prioritize critical supplies for container access and sea freight space
- Use existing “peel off” capability for priority handling at ports
- Utilize “fast pass” with railroads, trucks, and small parcel carriers
- Ensure first available railcar and chassis
- Ensure necessary equipment and labor are available
- Align transportation operations to support healthcare during public health emergencies
- 24/7 operations during a public health emergency for transport of medical products
- Develop intermodal communication plan on when and how medical products can be accessed
We must take immediate steps to develop a process that prioritizes the transportation of critical medical supplies and equipment. Additionally, more long-term solutions should include diversifying sources, expanding domestic manufacturing, recommending alternative products, and building a bigger cushion by increasing inventories and supporting public and private stockpiles.
TAKING ACTION: FAST PASS PILOT PROGRAM AT PORTS OF LOS ANGELES AND LONG BEACH
Last summer, HIDA convened supply chain stakeholders such as the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), and International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA), federal partners and West Coast Port leaders to discuss the need to expedite medical supplies. The group successfully collaborated with port leaders and announced in November they are testing tools and processes for prioritizing medical supply containers. Together, we are finding new ways to get medical supplies and equipment into the hands of healthcare providers and frontline workers more quickly and efficiently.
The proactive leadership of the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, terminal operator SSA Marine and its technology partner eModal created a pilot program to find solutions to today’s supply chain challenges. For the timely implementation of this pilot program, HIDA thanks its fellow trade associations, our federal partners at the Federal Maritime Commission and White House Supply Chain Disruption Task Force. We will continue to engage with ports and other transport system stakeholders to expand the program and identify impactful ways to expedite medical supplies and equipment.
ADVOCACY: MAKING OUR CASE IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
HIDA continues to advocate for solutions to the supply chain disruption with the Biden Administration, with Congress and in the media. Recent activities include:
HIDA’S 5 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BREAKING THE BOTTLENECK
- Expand Fast Pass Pilot Program
- A Fast Pass pilot program at an East Coast port would build on the success at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
- Lift Restrictions on Empty Returns
- The timely transport of medical supplies moves in a circle. For full containers to move out of the ports, empty containers must return. HIDA recommends lifting restrictions on the return of empties in order to expedite the flow of containers.
- Ground Empties
- The movement of containers depends on the availability of chassis. But too many chassis are idled while they remain attached to empty containers. HIDA recommends grounding these empties, thereby freeing up chassis to transport more containers full of supplies.
- No-Appointment Trucking for Medical Supplies
- The appointment-based system for picking up containers has contributed to terminal congestion. Delays at one appointment cause truckers to miss the next appointment. Congestion leads to fewer appointments. HIDA recommends allowing trucks to pick up medical supply containers at ports without an appointment.
- Pop-Up Ports Designated for Medical Supplies
- Pop-up locations have eased supply chain bottlenecks for many retailers. HIDA recommends designating space at lots outside the ports for medical supply containers for trucks to pick up.