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From the beginning of the COVID-19 public health crisis, the Colorado Medical Society heard repeatedly from physician members about the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) that was putting you and your patients in danger. CMS took this message to key state and federal stakeholders, hearing in the course of our regular advocacy work that rural hospitals and nursing homes were also facing severe shortages. The national stockpile was depleted and states had to act to obtain supplies. Though outside of our normal scope of work, it was clear there was an eminent threat and need and we as a medical society had to act to help our members secure PPE. In classic Colorado fashion, the community came together to get it done.
In early March, Gov. Jared Polis tapped Noel Ginsburg, a well-respected local manufacturing executive and founder of CareerWise Colorado, to oversee procurement of critical PPE needs in the state. Energize Colorado was soon born to meet these needs, as well as to support rural health care providers and the restart of business and industry. The organization is backed by Mile High United Way; the Colorado Health Foundation, who provided a refundable grant for use as working capital; Colorado State University who tested and vetted products; and two for-profit companies that provide procurement, warehouse space and distribution assistance. Powered by passionate volunteers from the public and private sectors, as well as universities, Energize Colorado turned out to be the key partner to CMS in meeting physician PPE needs. With the addition of Andi Rugg as the general manager of the PPE Marketplace and Jordan Monk, a former CareerWise Colorado apprentice, Energize Colorado kicked into high gear.
To deliver as quickly as possible, CMS joined Energize Colorado, the Colorado Hospital Association and the Colorado Healthcare Association to commit to placing a bulk order for PPE on behalf of physicians, rural hospitals and nursing homes at roughly half the cost of market value at the time. Given tight deadlines, CMS had to rapidly collect prospective PPE orders to determine how much product CMS members needed. The response from physicians across the state was tremendous. In four days, spanning the first weekend in May, hundreds of thousands of KN-95 masks, surgical masks, level 2 gowns and nitrile gloves were ordered totaling more than $200,000 with delivery scheduled for three to five weeks later. The size of the bulk order helped to bolster the purchasing power of Energize Colorado amidst the global rush for PPE, which in turn benefited other providers and communities across the state.
As the delivery date approached, CMS staff coordinated the logistics of payment, storage and distribution of physician orders. We gratefully welcomed volunteers from CMS component societies and their local contacts, plus donations of warehouse space from Tewell Warren and on-location directional signs from Center Copy Printing. In what has become an all-too-common situation given globally disrupted PPE supply chains, the first shipment of KN-95 masks failed CSU’s quality testing. Safety and quality were priorities from the start of the initiative, so Energize Colorado quickly pivoted to secure a second order that ultimately passed inspection in late May.
With just days to prepare the final details of the first wave of PPE product delivery, CMS coordinated PPE pick-up sites around the state on May 28 to fulfill the mask orders. In addition, CMS staff personally delivered orders around the state, with CMS Chief Operating Officer Dean Holzkamp clocking more than 1,000 miles across the Western Slope and southwest Colorado. The delivery of level two gowns occurred on June 23 and the delivery of gloves is expected in mid July. Moving forward, physicians are encouraged to place PPE orders through the Energize Colorado PPE Marketplace: energizecolorado.com/get-ppe-and-supplies.