US medical supply chain not ready for another pandemic, hospital CEO tells Senate panel

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The CEO of a New Jersey safety-net hospital told U.S. senators May 19 about his facility's struggles to obtain medical supplies and medications during the initial COVID-19 response in 2020, and said even now he does not believe the U.S. is prepared for another pandemic, according to NJ.com.

Shereef Elnahal, MD, president and CEO of University Hospital in Newark, testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during a discussion about drugs and medical supplies in the U.S. The discussion addressed shortages during the initial pandemic response, as well as how the nation can prepare for another public health crisis.

"Imagine having the sickest patients that folks have ever had to treat come in at first in fives, 10s and then 20-30 admissions a night into my hospital, having to retrofit parts of my hospital that don't normally care for such patients because we simply didn't have the room, including expanding into our mother-baby unit, pediatrics unit, and asking those staff who never care for adults in respiratory distress to do so, not only in a manageable number, but sometimes nine, 10 patients at a time," Dr. Elnahal told senators, describing his facility's circumstances earlier in the pandemic.

"Then to add to that the lack of availability of PPE or medications that will keep someone asleep while they have a breathing tube down their throat. This was just a tremendous amount of stress that piled on what otherwise would have been already a difficult situation," he said.

Dr. Elnahal also told senators his facility was on the phone with suppliers and struggled to obtain medical supplies and had to contend with a lack of shortage of many critical medications and increases in prices on medications that were specifically helpful for COVID-19.

Now, more than a year into the pandemic, he said there is still work to do regarding the U.S. medical supply chain, and that the country is too dependent on foreign manufacturers for medications and equipment, NJ.com reported.

"Today, we are in the final miles of the pandemic, but our public health crisis isn't completely over," Dr. Elnahal said, according to the report. "The reality is that I am still not convinced that we are prepared for the next pandemic — whether from a vaccine-resistant variant of COVID-19 or a different pathogen altogether."

According to NJBIZ, Kim Glas, president and CEO of the National Council of Textile Organizations; Rob Handfield, PhD, executive director of the Supply Chain Resource Cooperative at North Carolina State University; and Stephen Schondelmeyer, PhD, co-principal investigator for the Resilient Drug Supply Project at the University of Minnesota, also testified.

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