Since the onset of COVID-19, PHSA Supply Chain has been working with local companies to secure a steady stream of provincially manufactured medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE).
While much of B.C.'s PPE comes from international suppliers, local vendors have become increasingly important to maintain a steady and reliable flow of PPE to our provincial health care system.
Local factories that previously manufactured goods like dog beds, shampoo and fire safety products have retooled their production lines to produce masks, gowns, hand sanitizer and face shields.
PHSA now has purchase orders with dozens of B.C. companies for millions of units of PPE and medical equipment in the coming months.
COVID-19 created two major medical supply problems: increased worldwide demand and major obstacles to international shipping. So, while continuing efforts to source global products, PHSA Supply Chain also sought solutions closer to home.
Sifting through thousands of offers from vendors around the world to supply products during the pandemic, Supply Chain's COVID-19 response team prioritized local vendors as key to B.C.'s COVID-19 response, explained Neil Maharaj, sourcing manager of the COVID-19 response team with Supply Chain.
Maintaining and providing local jobs was a key decision factor, he explained.
"With so many Canadians being laid off – our neighbours, friends and families – we wanted to prioritize keeping jobs and work in Canada."
Another benefit of local suppliers is reliable access. International shipping has become increasingly unpredictable and challenging during COVID-19, explained Neil. Even though Supply Chain has chartered regular flights from international suppliers to B.C., frequent changes in regulations and requirements for exporters adds risk of shipping delays and added costs.
Plus, PHSA Supply Chain is able to collaborate with local companies in new ways, actively advising potential vendors on their prototypes, equipment and certification requirements to meet B.C.'s specific health system needs.
Novo Textiles owner Jason Zanatta with PHSA Supply Chain COVID-19 response team manager, Neil Maharaj, and a made-in-Canada box of masks.
Before COVID-19, Supply Chain would source pre-made items and manage contracts, but they've never explored these kinds of active partnership before, said Neil.
"Now, if we have any issues or improvements for a locally-made product, I simply visit the factory, explain any problems, and watch them make the change to the production line right there," said Neil.
While many companies are still in the early stages of production – prototyping, ordering raw materials, and machines to pivot their production lines – others are already providing products across B.C.
Coquitlam's AG Hair, a global haircare company, converted its entire manufacturing capacity to produce hand sanitizer and spray. Its products are already distributed province-wide, and have become a favourite with health care providers.
Surrey-based Firetech Manufacturing repurposed their production lines to produce face shields. Before the COVID-19 response, their main business was building custom bags and backpacks for first-responders. Working with Supply Chain, they've pivoted to focus on high-priority disposable face shields.
AWP Manufacturing is also supplying face shields for use across the province.
AWP team members - Adam Gordon, Trevor Hein and Russ McKinlay - in the millwork shop where they did some of the faceshield assembly.
Medical face shields have different requirements than other industry uses, so each company collaborated closely with us to make sure the new equipment they produce is appropriate for health care settings.
Novo Textiles, who made dog pillows and beds in Coquitlam pre-COVID-19, retooled their manufacturing line to produce medical-grade surgical masks and eventually N95 masks as well.
In addition to current and future suppliers, many other organizations have joined in to support B.C.'s medical supply chain.
For example, when PHSA received a large donation of effective but ill-fitting masks, the physics and engineering departments at UBC partnered with Manterra Technologies Inc. a Delta-based plastics and moulding company, to adapt the masks for better fit using cutting-edge plastics engineering.
As another example, a grassroots, volunteer-based organization called BC Covid-19 3D Printing Group has also come together to produce 3D-printed products. Now, they're providing ear-savers - straps that hold elastic mask straps – that reduce the discomfort of wearing masks for long periods.
"These are just some examples of the hundreds of problems we've solved by working together in completely new ways." said Neil. "This legacy of collaboration and new networks of local expertise will last long beyond our initial pandemic response."
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