These Bay Area residents need medical equipment, yet they wait amid supply-chain woes
The ramifications of the global supply chain disruption for local medical supply companies are on stark display right now at a Petaluma industrial park.
That’s where Labcon makes pipette tips, which are the pointed and slender devices used in medical research and lab facilities. Business has boomed since the pandemic, so much so that the U.S. Defense Department awarded it a $60 million contract last October to increase production.
But the business has been stymied as it awaits boxes and labels to be packaged with Labcon products and then shipped across the world, said Jim Happ, president of Labcon North America.
“Sometimes we go a week without boxes or a week without labels because there is no label stock or raw materials,” Happ said. “But we don’t shut down. We keep manufacturing and just accumulate stuff everywhere while waiting for packages to come in.”
Labcon is just one example of the hiccups, pivots and challenges that North Bay medical device providers face regarding backups with the global supply chain, which also affects local consumers waiting on such necessary products. That’s especially the case for local companies that rely on imports or have to export products to foreign countries.
Home medical supply is a diverse industry encompassing breathing apparatuses, which may include oxygen; tubing that needs to be changed regularly; mobility devices; incontinence aids; bathroom safety equipment; wound care; as well as masks and so much more.
One pressing issue: waiting for containers to arrive so they can be restocked and then sent back out to cargo ships at the Port of Oakland.
That’s the case over at Mac Thin Films, a Santa Rosa optical coating company whose products are used for medical purposes such as diagnostic imaging, and in making cars and office-equipment. The company is mainly an exporter, said Mark Madigan, chief executive officer.
The timeline on cargo shipments has increased from six weeks to 16 weeks since mid-2021, he said. The result: Mac Thin Films has been forced to order more of its specialty glass from Europe that is uses in production.
“We have to have more in the pipeline because of that lead time,” Madigan said.
“Not only it impacts production schedules; meeting customer demand; there’s a much higher carrying cost,” he said of the amount of time that his business has to hold inventory. In fact, one of its major production lines is not operating this week because of a lack of material.“
About 60% of exports from Mac Thin Films are shipped out, Madigan said. The company recently shipped containers out of the Port of Oakland to Asia for an order that it had been trying to fill since late September.
“We haven’t seen any improvement yet,” he said of the backlog.
In Petaluma, Labcon benefits by using raw materials that are sourced domestically. But it has been hampered by the wait for containers as it exports about 35% of its products, Happ said. “We have accumulated millions of dollars of inventory that can’t leave because we can’t get containers fast enough,” Happ said.
“We need like two to three containers a week and we often get zero to one container a week,” he said. “Just like the whole supply chain is messed up with stuff coming in, it’s equally messed up with stuff going out.”
The issue is also playing out for consumers. For example, Peter Basco is practically confined to his apartment in Vacaville.
While he is disabled, he’s homebound in part because the supply chain issue has made it impossible for him to get the wheelchair he needs to be more mobile.
Basco is among millions of people in the U.S. struggling to obtain in-home medical equipment. For some, it is matter of life and death. For others, it affects their lifestyle, while for others, it is more of a nuisance or inconvenience.
“I made an order in June for some walkers and still haven’t gotten them. It is pretty incredible,” Carlene Chavez of Piner’s Medical Supply in Napa said in January. She handles all the ordering for the company, which has been in business since 1946.
Basco ordered his chair there in December. Even Chavez doesn’t know when it will arrive.
The delivery delays are being blamed on manufacturers’ inability to get the parts they need to build the products and the disruption in the supply chain.
“Supply chain shortages and disruptions have evolved over the course of this pandemic. At the onset of the pandemic we were dealing strictly with global demand for PPE products and an equally significant reduction in the manufacturing output for those very same products,” explained Mike Schiller with the Association for Health Care Resource and Materials Management, a leading membership group for health care suppliers.