Northfield-based Medline Industries bills itself as the largest privately held manufacturer and distributor of medical supplies in the U.S. The company makes everything from medical masks to biohazard bags. It’s part of an industry that is under heavy pressure to meet a new and intense demand for such devices.
So what is Medline doing to help address a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic?
The supply has increased tenfold, said Charles Mills, CEO of Medline, which makes it difficult to keep up with demand. Primarily, masks have been in the tightest supply. Soon, Mills said, it will be ventilators.
“It’s hard for anybody, whether it’s the government producing it or producing in 10 different countries or all in the United States,” Mills said. “Nobody makes a manufacturing system that can produce 10 times the volume that it already does.”
Medline is currently waiting on FDA approval to repurpose face masks. The company’s facility in Waukegan was shut down last year due its ethylene oxide (EtO) emissions, a cancer-causing chemical. But recently, it reopened and is being used for the resterilization of equipment.
“We have the cleanest, most sophisticated EtO facility not just in the U.S. but in the world, so our emissions are incredibly low,” Mills said.
Within its facilities Medline has been trying to keep workers safe through social distancing, but it’s not always easy, Mills said. The facilities are getting cleaned often and workers are trying to space themselves out in the production line as best they can.
In order to prevent future pressure on workers and companies, Mills said the government should create a national stockpile of supplies. They weren’t as prepared as they could have been because facilities don’t necessarily have the capacity to store 10 times their inventory. It’s also not practical to build a manufacturing facility and have it run only 10% of the time when demand is normal, he added.
“[They could have] a national stockpile, build up a large inventory and direct it wherever they want,” Mills said. “It’s more cost effective and it’s the only way you can have 10 times the supply you normally would.”