Expertise in critical care and innovative solutions for multi-organ support – these are key strengths that Fresenius Medical Care leverages to provide critically ill patients with the best possible care. This approach has proved effective in the coronavirus crisis: When the pandemic caused demand for acute dialysis machines and disposables to soar, the Company secured supplies for its clinics, saving the lives of patients who were seriously affected by COVID-19.
Carsten Vatter, Director Global Replenishment at the Biebesheim distribution center, was one of the first to realize what great demands the global coronavirus pandemic would place on Fresenius Medical Care. At a time when Germany‘s attention was still mainly focused on China and clinics in northern Italy were starting to fill up with COVID-19 patients, Vatter suddenly saw unusual requests from his Italian colleagues on his monitor: The normal stocks of materials for acute dialysis were no longer sufficient, they wrote. Italy desperately needed further supplies.
In mid-March 2020, we suddenly received unusually high numbers of orders for acute dialysis machines and the associated disposables.
Acute dialysis is mainly performed in the form of continuous renal replacement therapy in intensive care units to replace vital kidney functions in severe cases of acute renal failure. It is a key element of critical care solutions, which constitute an increasingly important business area for Fresenius Medical Care. This is because the number of patients who receive continuous renal replacement therapy to treat acute kidney failure is set to rise to around 1.6 million per year by 2030.
For this reason, enhancing existing technologies and finding new, innovative solutions for the challenges involved in critical care are a key part of Fresenius Medical Care‘s strategy. The Company intends to expand its expertise in treating acute renal failure to include further extracorporeal critical care therapy areas, such as the treatment of acute heart, lung, and multi-organ failure. Our vision here is to provide patients in critical care with optimum treatment and better chances of survival using the best machines and therapies.
As well as respiratory problems, COVID-19 can cause acute renal failure in severe cases. Consequently, acute dialysis became the focus of attention almost overnight: Around one in four patients admitted to intensive care with COVID-19 develops acute renal failure, which has to be treated with acute dialysis. All of a sudden, intensive care units not only required extra ventilators, but also many more machines for acute dialysis. Eventually, the filters, solutions, and tubes required for these machines ran short, too, as the virus also significantly increases the blood‘s tendency to clot. With some COVID-19 patients, filters that usually last up to 72 hours became clogged after just a short time and had to be replaced – causing material consumption to rise at an equal rate. The latter situation has since improved, after initial scientific findings on COVID-19 became available and treatment was adapted accordingly.
What my team achieved while working from home was phenomenal.
In France, Puigblanque received 70 orders for the multiFiltratePRO within a very short time. By way of comparison, this is equivalent to a month‘s worth of demand in normal times – worldwide! There were also orders for vast quantities of disposables. “We were in constant touch with the task force,” the head of the business unit recalls. “And at the same time, we were talking with the hospitals so that we always knew exactly what was most urgently needed.” Because supplies from Germany were not sufficient to cover all requests at once, Puigblanque started to split deliveries and divide them between the hospitals as best he could.
He received support from the distribution center in Biebesheim. “Normally, we send 30 truckloads to France each week, but in those weeks when the crisis was at its peak, it was 50,” Vatter explains. Italy and other countries were also supplied from Biebesheim and other distribution warehouses. “What my team achieved while working from home was phenomenal.”
Until the first wave of the pandemic began to level off in Europe at the end of May, Fresenius Medical Care made a tremendous effort to meet the huge demand in the acute dialysis sector. Production of the multiFiltrate- PRO was gradually tripled, and other plants also increased their production volumes to a similar extent.
“My team did everything humanly possible to meet the demand,” says Vatter, which is putting it mildly given the enormous amount of work involved. From Biebesheim, all the goods were navigated through Europe, which was largely sealed off. Labeled as “life-sustaining supplies”, the deliveries from Fresenius Medical Care were waved past the lines of trucks at the border crossings and reached their destinations on time.
Puigblanque also managed to respond to every request eventually – even if not always on the same day or in one consignment. “That was definitely the most challenging time in my career,” he says today. In July, he received special recognition for his hard work in a letter from a hospital in the greater Paris area. “Thanks to your efforts to supply us with medical equipment regularly and on time, we were able to guarantee the required quality and safety of our treatments,” the letter said. “We would never have been able to meet this challenge without you.” The experienced sales expert was delighted by this: “It was the first time anything like that had happened to me in my working life.”