News & Events

Solving a shortage

Date: 08/06/2020

How Northern Light Health Supply Chain teamed up with the University of Maine during COVID-19

Northern Light Health and the University of Maine have collaborated for many years on endeavors like training nursing students and providing healthcare to students at Northern Light Primary Care, Cutler Health Center. So, it’s no surprise that community need during the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed another opportunity for this relationship to shine. This time, the Supply Chain team at Northern Light is working with the Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at the university to do something neither has ever done before.
The university’s Process Development Center—known for its leading-edge pulp and paper research capabilities—has temporarily turned to production of hospital-grade hand sanitizer. The sanitizer is delivered to Northern Light Health in 55-gallon drums, and from there an employee team pumps it into smaller containers and ships it to sites all over the health system. 
“It’s a simple but very precise recipe,” comments Donna Johnson, research manager at the Process Development Center. “We are hand-mixing hydrogen peroxide, water, ethanol, and glycerol and shipping it out all over the state. Northern Light Health has been one of the larger customers.”
The team working at the Northern Light packaging facility is comprised of people who don’t typically work together, much less work on an assembly line. The system has avoided having to lay off staff during the pandemic. “These are administrative and clinical employees who have needed to be reassigned from their regular work duties,” observes Johanna Libby, manager of Support Services, Informatics, who is overseeing the operation. Receptionists, radiology technologists, medical technologists—employees from all over Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center and the Northern Light Health Home Office—are filling large and small containers with hand sanitizer, labeling and boxing up bottles for shipment to the hospitals and other sites in need of the product. “The folks on this team may not even know each other, but they are doing a great job. They know the work is very important for the safety and health of both our employees and our patients,” adds Johanna.
At the Process Development Center in Orono, Johnson says her team is feeling very good about the opportunity to help during a time when so much has changed so quickly. She says, “The idea caught the attention of a couple of faculty members in the department, and we said ‘Yes, we can do this!’” The distribution of the sanitizer produced at the center is a part of the statewide response to the pandemic managed by the Maine Emergency Management Agency. Northern Light Health is not the only organization receiving the product, though it’s one of very few receiving sanitizer in 55-gallon drums.
“We have processed and distributed more than 1,900 gallons of hand sanitizer from Presque Isle to Portland,” says Libby proudly. “And we are meeting the demand thanks to this great partnership with the University of Maine. We will be here distributing as long as our members, staff, and patients need us.”