An Open Letter to Supply Chain Leaders

Dear Supply Chain Leader,

God bless you and your staff. The last year has probably been the most devastating one in your work career. The challenges brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic have made you learn more things more quickly than ever before. Your tireless effort and relentless pursuit of virtually non-existent products has kept your organization going when others would have failed. You have shown imagination, ingenuity and relentless commitment to your task.

And you have made a difference. There is no telling how many lives your efforts have saved. You deserve praise and the appreciation of a grateful community.

As this pandemic begins to wane (and it will as more and more people receive vaccinations), you have earned the right to pause for a moment, take a deep breath and reflect on what you, your staff and your organization have just gone through.

If you do take that moment, you will eventually reach a point when you ask yourself, “Where do we go from here?” The longer you sit and think, the more you will remember what was happening in healthcare before the pandemic. More and more systems were merging. Many organizations were planning consolidated service centers. Still more had turned the management of large portions of their inventories to their distribution partners by putting an upcharge on supplies to eliminate on hand stock and have them delivered to the dock in Low Unit of Measure (LUM), ready for delivery to the user units. Your organization may have been a target for acquisition or “merger” and you may have felt threatened from time to time- threatened that your very job might be impacted. The longer you reflect, the more you begin to wonder what the supply chain is going to look like after the pandemic passes.

Pandemics, like war, have the effect of accelerating change. Prior to the advent of COVID-19, several things were beginning to happen, or continuing to develop, that would have a long term impact on the healthcare supply chain- things like:

  • Telemedicine
  • Increased use of 3rd Party Logistics such as Amazon
  • Physical decentralization of care (increase of non-acute sites)
  • Home care
  • Evolution of new ways to treat disease- use of new technologies, need to respond and support

The changes that will continue to take place in the healthcare delivery system will require resilience and adaptation. The supply chain will have to be agile and flexible.

And it will be your responsibility to see that it functions correctly.


It is that responsibility that must be addressed. Amidst all the change that has just taken place, as well as all the change that will be coming, there are some other things that will remain the same:

  1. Profit and Loss will continue to rule the day
  2. As soon as the immediate crisis has passed, a return to normalcy will be desired
  3. The more time that passes, the more likely the lessons learned in the pandemic will be forgotten or abandoned
  4. See point number 1. Short term profitability will always rule the day. Senior Leadership will always defer to the bottom line
  5. Resources- both in money and people- will continue to be scarce, and you will have to be able to make do with what you have and compete for those scarce resources.

And through it all, your responsibility will be the same: to articulate the future design and operation of your supply chain to senior leadership.

So, with all of this positive build up, what should you be doing in an environment where you may soon be acquired, fired or retired?

First, you must accept responsibility for becoming your organization’s advocate for the supply chain. You, and only you, must take charge of your supply chain.

To do this a suggested approach is:

  • Aggregate essential supply chain data from every entity and care site within the organization
  • Collate that information you have gathered and arrange it into logical groupings
  • Create a list of possible approaches* using the data you have gathered and your knowledge of existing approaches within the industry.
  • Create a high-level cost benefit analysis* for each alternative
  • Present your findings to senior leadership, receive their feedback and ask for funding of a detailed assessment*
  • If detailed assessment is approved, ENGAGE AN UNBIASED THIRD PARTY TO CONDUCT IT. Parties such as GPOs and Distributors are not unbiased and should not be engaged to conduct the study.
  • Request that the consultants grade out the various approach and rank each in descending order of Return on Investment
  • Present findings to senior leadership*
  • Create a go-forward Supply Chain Masterplan*
  • Implement plan**
  • Review yearly and revise as needed


Key: * Requires input from objective third party. **May require a separate consulting engagement.


The logic behind using an objective consultant to help you along the way might seem obvious, but to reiterate:

  1. An experienced consultant will have performed this work many times and will have many data points to compare your data against
  2. By the same token, such a consultant will know to include things into the study and assessment that you might overlook if left to your own devices
  3. An experienced consultant will probably have built many templates to demonstrate the costs, risks and prospective Return on Investment for each alternative
  4. An experienced consultant will know how to present the results and options to Senior Leadership most effectively and how to address/counter any questions or criticism that may arise

Your job as a Supply Chain Leader is difficult. In normal times, it is hard enough just to respond to normal demands, and these are far from normal times. Going forward, you can only expect that change will happen at an accelerated pace, and if you are not proactive in your approach, being reactive may not be good enough for your system to prosper.

It is difficult to compete for the scarce resources required to conduct a detailed study of the effectiveness of your supply chain and to devise a go-forward strategy. But unlike to od saw that says, “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t”, in this case there is a very good chance that you will be damned if you don’t.

Let us help.

Over the last 37 years, we at St. Onge have helped countless organizations both within and outside healthcare plan the future of their supply chain operations. Whiteboarding is one of mant process we have employed to help our clients. Through our design process, we perform an intensive level of due diligence to learn our clients’ needs. Site tours, detailed interviews and data drive the models and simulations we use to develop a thorough understanding of our client’s day-to-day activity from an efficiency perspective. This process validates our understanding of the client’s issues and provides the foundation for developing the relationships required to create innovative solutions.

St. Onge Company has grown steadily and developed a client list that includes many Fortune 500 companies and several world-renowned institutions. We have completed approximately 5,000 assignments for over 1,000 clients located through- out the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, China and South America.

Our past projects cover a wide variety of Institutional, Commercial and Industrial applications for clients such as Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Rush University Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and King Saud Abdul Aziz Hospital, as well as with their architecture firms. For these clients, we have developed a strong familiarity with the challenging logistics and related real-time issues associated with hospital operations, including campus supply chain strategies, materials management master plans, departmental optimization, facility designs and information systems to plan, direct and coordinate the movement of materials. Some of these solutions are highly automated; all are highly effective.

If you find yourself interested in developing a resilient supply chain operations strategy, please contact St. Onge. Our experts stand ready to take a look at your operation and find the opportunities you may have overlooked. You can reach me at or call me at 563-503-1847.

Good luck as you go forward.


The St. Onge Healthcare Team

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