Glenn Schmidt

Oct. 14, 2020
Glenn Schmidt helped keep supplies in stock for UCHealth's 12 hospitals
Glenn Schmidt poses in the UCHealth warehouse with transparent masks that help people who need to read lips. Thankfully, Schmidt had prepared for years for a health emergency that could wipe out supplies, so he was ready when COVID-19 hit. Photo by Katie Kerwin McCrimmon.

Crushing COVID: Supply manager anticipated ‘zombie apocalypse’

Back when a new, dangerous flu emerged in 2009 and ultimately became known as the H1N1 pandemic, Glenn Schmidt was managing supplies for University of Colorado Hospital.

H1N1 served as a wake-up call that a bad flu year can quickly wipe out essential supplies of masks, gloves and gowns and other critical supplies.

And Schmidt vowed that he never would be caught short again. So, he enlisted the help of leaders and colleagues and started building up reserves of essential supplies.

“You can’t have everything under the sun. But, we identified 75 items that we had to have on hand in case a disaster hit the hospital,” Schmidt said.

He jokingly called the reserves his “Z-hold.” The “Z” stands for zombie. Schmidt and other UCHealth leaders hoped there would never be a zombie apocalypse. But if the zombies came, Schmidt was determined to be ready.

Well, they came.

Fast forward to the pandemic of 2020. University of Colorado Hospital has evolved into UCHealth, which is now a 12-hospital system. And the need for personal protective equipment or PPE was startling as cases of COVID-19 hit Colorado hospitals.

“Consumption during a pandemic is about 10 times greater than normal,” Schmidt said.

On top of that, this zombie apocalypse wasn’t just hitting Denver or Colorado. It was hitting huge regions of the world, and many of the factories that manufacture medical supplies are located in the Wuhan region of China, where the coronavirus first emerged.

“It was the perfect storm,” Schmidt said.

“It wasn’t just PPE. We had to contend with shortages of other items that come from China and the Far East. All of the factories were literally shut down. It wasn’t just masks and gloves. It was supplies like catheters and respiratory items as well. That district of China represents 70% of manufacturing for medical equipment around the globe.”

To cope with COVID-19, Schmidt, leaders and his team acted fast. They centralized supplies for all UCHealth facilities at a Denver warehouse. To conserve valuable PPE, the team gave providers at each facility exactly what they needed and asked them to be mindful of how much PPE they were using.  Then, the 63-year-old father of four and grandfather of six tapped relationships from 40 years in health care to purchase necessary supplies.

The Z-hold gave him a critical head start. Thanks to Schmidt, UCHealth hospitals and staffers never suffered the kind of shortages that forced doctors in hard-hit areas like New York and New Orleans to have to create homemade PPE or go without.

“The fact that we had reserves gave us some breathing room. Then, we canvassed the nation to get what we needed. We are fortunate that absolutely everybody at UCHealth came forward to crush COVID.”

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About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Colorado native. She attended Colorado College, thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation, and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summer breaks from college. She is also a storyteller. She loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and was a finalist with a team of reporters for the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of a deadly wildfire in Glenwood Springs in 1994. Katie was the first reporter in the U.S. to track down and interview survivors of the tragic blaze, which left 14 firefighters dead.

She covered an array of beats over the years, including the environment, politics, education and criminal justice. She also loved covering stories in Congress and at the U.S. Supreme Court during a stint as the Rocky’s reporter in Washington, D.C.

Katie then worked as a reporter for an online health news site before joining the UCHealth team in 2017.

Katie and her husband Cyrus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, have three children. The family loves traveling together anywhere from Glacier National Park to Cuba.