VA has received planeloads of personal protective equipment (PPE) via eight FedEx flights, with another half dozen planned.

These PPE flights delivered 4.5 million masks, 3 million gowns and 20 million gloves. A partnership with the state of New Hampshire also garnered 7 million test swabs for national dissemination.

Here’s a video from the New Hampshire National Guard loading the planes.

Daniel Cutsinger, of VHA Procurement & Logistics, flew into New Hampshire to inspect a recent PPE delivery.

First-of-its-kind Partnership

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.

VA’s mission is ensuring the safety of the Veterans we serve and our workforce. Before medical personnel can deliver clinical care, safe infrastructure and support must be in place. PPE is a key element in that infrastructure.

Securing PPE and safeguarding its accessibility across the organization is among the department’s highest priorities. VA will continue this effort throughout the COVID 19-pandemic. An ample supply of this now-scarce resource allows the department to properly equip and protect our front line health care associates and ensures Veteran care can continue.

In the photo above are (from left) Dean Kamen, inventor and civilian VA strategic partner; Daniel Cutsinger, project manager, VA Procurement & Logistics; Fritz Morgan, DEKA Research; Kevin Forrest, director, VA Manchester; and Capt. Jeremy Saunders, operations officer, Taskforce Distribution, NH National Guard.

Supply of PPE attributed to unique partnership

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. Scher is executive advisor to the Secretary, and leads the Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships. “This is exactly the kind of big, bold and impactful work the department is uniquely able to carry out. This aligns with our shared passion to save lives.”

“What we are doing is unusual and we need to work creatively…”

“What we are doing in New Hampshire is unusual and we need to work creatively to make sure we have PPE for clinicians, housekeepers and the entire workforce,”said Deb Kramer, the acting assistant under secretary for health for Support Services. “There are a lot of contracts in place to supply the department. Unfortunately, many are not able to perform. They are operating under just-in-time conditions and relying on national and international supply chains that were never designed to handle this volume of demand.”

Members of the 4th Mission Deployment Team wear their PPE to deliver care. From left are Edith Munoz (VA Manchester), Arnoldo Cruz-Ayala (kneeling; VA Manchester), Morgan Wilkinson (VA Travel Nurse), Suzanne Mowery (VA Manchester), Diane McGehee (Bedford VA), Luke Rock (Providence VA) and Elizabeth Smith (VA Manchester).

“I am in awe of the department as a whole and how we are stepping up. 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.

“Owe those on the front lines the protection they deserve.”

“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 front lines, 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. I am honored the state of New Hampshire can continue to help VA hospitals across the country secure lifesaving PPE.”

The PPE strategic partnership required an internal process to ensure occupational safety and health standards. It also required product specification compliance prior to VHA placing an order.

Follow that process in this full length article.

National VA PPE distribution priority is based on mission-need and location. VA’s response to COVID-19 demonstrated the strength and agility of an integrated health care system geographically distributed across the United States and operating as a single enterprise. As COVID-19 incidence varied by location, VA was able to sustain operations in locations experiencing high demand due to COVID-19. Examples of these locations are New York City and New Orleans. VA cross-leveraged staff, PPE and ventilators from areas with low levels of disease.

“The grit behind all we accomplish.”

“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 that 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 of these extraordinary efforts, which the Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships spearheaded and VHA Procurement & Logistics led, they also continue to be the grit behind all we accomplish during this pandemic and beyond. They ensure facilities have medical equipment, cleaning supplies, and both essential and non-essential items. While unseen, they are the unsung heroes, working to ensure the wellness of our nation’s Veterans.

It takes a dedicated team to secure the PPE needed to keep our Veterans and staff safe. We share a special note of recognition to them in this full-length feature story.

Contributed by the Office of the Secretary, Secretary’s Center for Strategic Partnerships. Story by Kristin Pressly, public affairs officer for the Manchester VA Medical Center.

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Published on Jul. 20, 2020

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