Skip to Content

Linda Rouse O’Neill on supply chain constraints: We need to expedite health care products

Linda Rouse O’Neill on supply chain constraints: We need to expedite health care products

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Supply chain constraints have made transportation a health care issue, says Linda Rouse O’Neill of the Health Industry Distributors Association. 

In September, when O’Neill was a guest on the HME News in 10 podcast, she said about 70 cargo ships were waiting off the coast of California, a 30% increase compared to last year.   

“When you think about COVID and (the bottlenecks at) our West Coast ports – the social distancing and protocols and illness with workers – they’re struggling like every industry to balance all of that and make sure people are working, so that’s really made transportation a health care issue at this point,” said O’Neill, vice president of supply chain policy and executive branch relations. “I think we can all agree that we need to move those health care products in an expedited way.” 

Here’s what O’Neill had to say about how we got here and where we might be headed. 

‘$10M question’ 

How did we get to this current world of component shortages, freight surcharges and shipping delays? “That’s a $10 million question right there,” O’Neill says. HIDA has a long history of working with federal agencies, including on the Strategic National Stockpile, during natural disasters and even during the Ebola outbreak, but COVID is different, she says. 

“We learned a lot from Ebola, but that didn’t manifest here like COVID has, in terms of scope and scale,” she said. “(With COVID), the elevated demand is coming up on two years and it’s global in nature. That has really put supply chain in the spotlight but also our partners in transportation in the spotlight. When you think back when COVID started and people were locked down, health care products were moving and the supply chain responded the best way it could, (but) people’s behavior changed, as well. Everybody was ordering things online. So, the sheer volume that’s impacting not just health care but other industries, as well, is creating a huge bottleneck.” 

‘Creative partnerships’ 

HIDA has taken a number of steps to address supply chain constraints and to build a more robust and resilient supply chain, including developing “creative partnerships” with their customers, O’Neill says. 

“What distributors have been able to do is show their value in diversifying sources,” she said. “We have great experience in vetting those sources and making sure they’re legitimate and not brokers just out to make quick dollar. We know what to look for, so we can augment the product availability there is. Our members have also been working on ways, in creative partnerships with their customers, on increasing inventories and identifying substitutions.” 

‘It’s going to take a while’ 

HIDA is having conversations with the White House Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force and the Federal Maritime Commission on how to expedite deliveries of health care related products. The organization has also worked with members of Congress on legislation, the Medical Supplies for Pandemics Act, that would implement a supply chain flexibility manufacturing program to, among other things, work with distributors to manage domestic reserves held by the Strategic National Stockpile by refreshing and replenishing supply stocks. But O’Neill expects constraints to continue through 2022. 

“We’ve got quite the backlog and it’s going take a while for everything to catch up and untangle,” she said. 

To listen to the complete interview with O’Neill, go to


To comment on this post, please log in to your account or set up an account now.