Behind the Scenes: Materials Management

Materials Management

We sat down with some of the Materials crew for insights on how they make sure we have what we need, when and where we need it. (Photo: Materials poses at the hospital’s back loading dock.)

“A par level is an inventory management method through which you determine the minimum amount of stock you always need to have on hand.” –

Morgan (M)
Bonnie (B)
Michael (MB)

Materials is a generic term. What does it represent?

M: It’s basically all the supplies needed to run the organization and to support patient care.
Are there various roles on the team, or does everybody cover the same areas?

B: No, we have various roles. The techs do all the inventory control, making sure all departments are filled to the par, and also they do all the shipping and receiving.

M: There’s also the buyer role, which is Bonnie and Rhonda. Bonnie is the OR-specific buyer. And Rhonda does all the rest, and Med/Surg. And there’s my role as director. The whole team is great at supporting one another with their workload whenever possible.

The technicians go out and inventory?

M: They make sure that the departments are stocked to their par level. Each item that is stocked in their department is set at a level. So it could be that they have five of something or they have a hundred of another. Our Cerner system tells us how many of each item each department should have at the beginning of the day.

But you’re going, they’re going out to the departments?

M: Every single morning. That’s why they start so early. They do the clinics and all the departments in the morning. They go out and scan first thing, come back and pull all the product that’s needed, and then go back and stock it. Then again later if they need to delivery additional orders that have come in. The team puts on a lot of miles each day.

Does materials stock the entire organization or just the hospital? I’m assuming there’s nothing to stock up at Radio Hill.

M: Home Health sends bins and totes down every day for us to stock and send back up with the courier. We support all KVH clinics. We also provide supplies to external entities as well, so if KVFR is out of a supply and they need something, we will issue it to them. 

Are there any misconceptions about Materials people might have that we could clear up?

B: Maybe that our jobs got easier when the departments began scanning their items?

M: That would be a major misconception.

B: We still reset all the pars, when the levels get off from them not scanning, and we still have the same amount of work, filling blue bins, yellow bins, ordering product.

What would surprise somebody about the work you do here?

MB: I know when I started working here, I was surprised that this small department covers orders and supplies for all the clinics, and the hospital.

What are some of the challenges of working in materials?

B: Not getting enough information to place orders. The amount of back and forth we have to do from not getting all of the information…

MB: It’s a lot more complex than most people probably think.

M: And I think people get frustrated, too, when you ask them for more information. I’ve always told the team we’re not going to play “Bring Me a Rock,” because I don’t know if you want a big rock, a little rock a flat rock, a jagged rock. You’ve got to give us a little bit more information, because we have hundreds of people every day asking for things, and if you don’t give us a little bit more information we cannot guarantee you will get what you need.

They’re going to get the wrong thing –

M: They are, and they’re going to be upset about it or they’re going to be upset that we have to email them multiple times with questions.

Do you have particular vendors or people you’re interacting with regularly as you place orders?

B: The main distributor is Medline. We try to get all of our supplies through them, except for things that they don’t carry or various times where it’s cheaper to buy direct. Then we do have multiple vendors. We probably have 20 to 30 different vendors that we place orders with daily. We have a buying group called Intalere. We make sure that we’re getting the best value and the best rebate back from purchasing.

And then random stuff happens. Like, we need carpet for five buildings, and that lands in your world.

M: Anything that comes through the door comes through our area. We do pretty much all of it except for Pharmacy, Food & Nutrition Services, and some of IT. I chair the capital committee, so all capital requests come through us. We get quotes with buyers and have to run it through analysis, through MD Buyline, to make sure it’s cost competitive, that they’re giving us the best price, that they’re referencing our contracts, then we present it to capital. We get all of the supply requests for remodels and builds. MAC (Medical Arts Center) is huge on my plate right now.

B: Everything funnels through here first, which kind of makes it so everybody thinks everything comes back here.

M: Office Depot is the only group that actually will deliver to ancillary locations. Other than that, every single purchase order and every single purchase has to come through these doors, which is frustrating for clinics up in Cle Elum because there’s a delay while it gets here, gets checked in, and then sent up.
But if we weren’t checking things in, there’s a downstream effect for Accounting where it doesn’t show it was received in the system. We don’t have an accurate way of tracking it if it just starts going out to other locations before we have a chance to check it in, to check the quality, to make sure it’s the correct item. That’s why this has to be the central hub for all incoming products.

What are the rewards of working in Materials?

MB: Definitely the people

M: I think our team is amazing.

MB: We all get along really well, and that can make or break the job.

B: The team dynamic that we have right now makes it nice to be here, even when it is stressful. Everybody pitches in and helps one another. We look out for each other and care about each other.

M: We have a good time when we’re here. We laugh, we joke, you know, it feels like you’re spending time with your friends and your family. And you don’t always get that at work.

MB: This position goes to every department. You get to see, a little glimpse of the goings-on and to meet people from almost every department, too.

Are you expert packers? (“No!!”) Do you get cardboard cuts? (“YES!”) You ought to get hazard pay for that. So what does it take to have a great day at work?

M: No backorders.

B: That’s another thing I think people don’t realize, is how much time we spend navigating backorders, substitutions, and trying to make good decisions cost wise; that it’s going to work for the facility, just how much time we really have to spend on each order, and making sure it comes in correctly.
How does this team’s work support the patient care mission of KVH?

B: Getting supplies in a timely manner at the best cost possible, making sure that everybody has what they need to provide patient care, and that we’re also providing a service that is cost effective.

Imagine if we took Materials out of the equation and clinic staff had to run over here and try and find something or place an order when a provider runs out of supplies. I guess, in a good way, you’re taken for granted because everything is where we need it when we need it for the most part.

B: I think the surgeons would realize pretty quickly if they were short on supplies.

M: Bonnie’s great about looking at the OR schedule ahead of time. Two weeks out, she’ll look to make sure what’s on there. She’ll know what supplies are needed based on their preference cards. She’ll make sure that they have enough on the shelf.

That’s amazing. That’s a direct impact on patient care. Thanks for the work you do to keep us equipped and ready to provide quality care. Clearly, we couldn’t do it without you.