This article originally appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on December 3, 2012.

In a year’s time, Charleston Area Medical Center uses 385,500 adhesive bandages, 17,000 toothbrushes, 3,500 boxes of tissues, 8,080 rolls of toilet paper and more than a million Styrofoam coffee cups.

And each of those items passes through the hospital system’s warehouse, located in the employee parking garage on its Memorial Hospital campus.

If “warehouse” conjures up images of Sam’s Club, think again. CAMC’s stockroom is a relatively small operation, with just 24 employees and a space more akin to CVS than Costco.

Alan Shearer, CAMC’s director of material handling, said the warehouse keeps about 1,700 different items in stock – worth about $650,000 in all – and turns over that inventory about 30 times each year.

That means in the span of eight to 10 days, every single item on the shelves is stocked, used and restocked.

“It’s very challenging; the volume of work is incredible,” Shearer said.

It’s a seven-day-a-week job.

Beginning at 6 a.m. each day, warehouse workers visit each of the hospital system’s nursing units to take an inventory of their supplies. At each of the 105 supply closets, workers use a handheld computer to record how many gloves, masks, bandages or alcohol wipes are left in stock.

The computers then calculate how many items the supply rooms should have in stock and transmit that information back to the warehouse.

Shearer said it’s especially important to keep certain hospital departments well stocked.

“If you can imagine the emergency room, labor and delivery . . . you can’t predict what’s going to happen,” he said.

He said it’s especially important to keep the labor and delivery department at CAMC Women and Children’s Hospital well stocked when a full moon is approaching. Apparently there’s some truth behind the old tale about the moon’s sway in such matters.

Once workers return to the warehouse, they print out a “pick list” of all the supplies they need to restock. The sheets conveniently list items according to where they are located on the warehouse shelves, saving workers the trouble of running back and forth while completing their shopping.

The warehouse, which handles every item used by the hospital except pharmaceuticals, is separated into three sections. The first, located closest to the shipping dock, is the “bulk area” where the most frequently used items are stored. You’ll spot boxes upon boxes of saline flushes for IVs, paper isolation gowns, gloves and those all-important Styrofoam coffee cups.

Farther back is a section filled with large shelves holding high-use supplies that do not fit into the “bulk” category. This is where you’ll find the toilet paper and tissue boxes, non-slip socks and gowns, as well as an entire wall stocked with a variety of special baby formulas for premature infants or those suffering from “fussiness and gas,” disposable bottles and several different kinds of nipples.

The third section contains smaller, less frequently used items. One aisle contains stacks of forms, pamphlets and fliers used throughout the hospital system. Each is produced in CAMC’s print shop, also located inside the warehouse.

A few rows over, the shelves are filled with smaller items like roll-on deodorant, toothbrushes and small tubes of toothpaste, baby lotion and even flashlights. These shelves also have some medical supplies, including catheters and guide wires, that doctors use fairly frequently.

Once their shopping lists are complete, workers load the supplies into trucks and spend the last hours of their workdays restocking each of those 105 supply closets.

Sometimes, however, the warehouse doesn’t have what hospital staff members need.

Shearer said deliveries from manufacturers are sometimes delayed.

“Just because a manufacturer can’t get it to us, doesn’t mean the hospital stops needing it,” he said.

The warehouse tries to get the supplies from alternate vendors but if that doesn’t work, it sometimes must borrow supplies from other hospitals. Warehouse workers have driven as far as Parkersburg and even Columbus, Ohio, to pick up supplies.

“When there’s supplies a patient needs, everybody’s on the same team,” Shearer said.

When a nurse or doctor needs a special product, they contact CAMC’s purchasing department, which places an order with the supplier. The supplier then ships the item to the warehouse, where the receiving department intercepts the package.

“Receiving” gets hundreds of packages each day from UPS and FedEx, containing a wide variety of items such as freeze-dried human tissue, furniture, wound dressings and laser printers. Once staff figures out what the box contains, they attach a special order slip and put it on a truck for its intended location.

CAMC processes about 900 purchase orders each week. And, whether the order is a hernia patch or a special kind of heart valve, it is transported to the hospital the same day it arrives.

“It works like clockwork,” Shearer said.