In early March, Thornton Kirby, president and CEO of the S.C. Hospital Association, raised an alarm that South Carolina may face a shortage of personal protective equipment.
The message circulated through a number of economic development groups, along with surveys probing retooling capabilities in response to the Trump administration’s invocation of the Defense Production Act.
As manufacturers geared up across the state to meet critical needs, the S.C. Hospital Association, SCBio, the S.C. Department of Commerce and the S.C. Manufacturing Extension Partnership joined forces to connect healthcare providers and other industries with critical needs equipment through the S.C. Emergency Supply Collaborative portal announced April 13.
Kirby said the portal will help streamline the product’s trip from the manufacturer to the hospital. He hopes other sectors, such as auto assembly, construction and education, will be able to make use of the portal to replenish their equipment stores, too.
“There are some who are on a two-, three-, four-day supply but generally, we’re better than we were a couple weeks ago. The problem is that assumes the current number of COVID patients. If you fill up a hospital with 50 or 60 more like they do in New York City, the so-called ‘burn rate’ for every patient goes up a lot,” Kirby said on April 13.
He hopes the mobilization of manufacturers across the state will also contribute to a state stockpile for future emergencies.
“The national stockpile has been largely distributed, at least to the best of my understanding. South Carolina did get our share, that’s 1% based on population, but the volume of personal protective equipment is just so great, it quickly outstripped the national stockpile,” he said.
Chuck Spangler, CEO and president of the S.C. Manufacturing Extension Partnership, said he was awake until midnight after the announcement of the portal, responding to S.C. manufacturers who want to sell their critical needs goods through the portal.
“It’s been a thrill to see all of these companies step up, rise to the challenge and meet the critical needs in our state,” Spangler said.
By Tuesday morning, Spangler said about 80 companies had joined the portal to sell critical needs goods after careful vetting from portal organizers to bar price-gougers. Several offered donations.
“Last week, we saw an incredible response,” he said.
About 15 health care providers had already begun scouting out the portal for PPE and other equipment along with several manufacturers.
As many of the state’s manufacturers return to normal operations — Spangler thinks by May 4 — he hopes South Carolina will support each other by buying and selling PPE through the portal and is encouraging manufacturers to consider using other three-layer mask alternatives to preserve the stores of N95 masks for health care workers and food providers.