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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Intermountain Healthcare president and CEO Charles Sorenson, left, and Kem Gardner look over some surgical tools at the new Kem C. Gardner Supply Chain Center, a highly automated, 327,000-square-foot medical distribution center and warehouse in Midvale, on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012.

MIDVALE — Intermountain Healthcare's new 327,000-square-foot medical distribution center and warehouse is expected to streamline operations, save time, money and energy.

But the ultimate goal of the Kem C. Gardner Supply Chain Center is to improve patient care. 

"A lot of this is getting nurses and clinic employees to spend more time with patients by letting us do some of their front-end work," said Brent Johnson, vice president of Intermountain's supply chain organization. 

The facility will supply everything from suture kits to laptop computers. The health care company spends some $1.3 billion a year on supplies for its 23 hospitals, 160 clinics and home care operations. 

"No one buys as much stuff as us," Johnson said.

The goal of the operation is that an order placed by the floor of a hospital or a clinic at 3 p.m. one day is in the hands of caregivers by 7 a.m. the following day, he said.

The facility, officially opened during ceremonies Wednesday afternoon, will house ordering, purchasing, warehousing and distribution functions for more than 5,000 types of medical supplies. An estimated 2.5 million medical items are expected to pass through the facility each year.

The facility, which is highly automated, will create about 40 new jobs.

Located at 7302 S. Bingham Junction Blvd., the facility was named for Gardner, a prominent Salt Lake developer and co-founder of the The Boyer Co. Gardner served as honorary chairman of Intermountain Healthcare from 2007 to 2012.

The warehouse and office facility is centrally located to the majority of Intermountain's hospitals and clinics. In the event of a natural disaster, delivery vehicles would have immediate access to multiple thoroughfares.

By purchasing supplies directly from manufacturers, the facility should be able to deliver needed items more efficiently than waiting for deliveries from out-of-state vendors.

Richard Beach, director of materials management, said the H1N1 flu pandemic revealed a glaring weakness in the nation's supply chain.

"Everyone in the country was after the same supplies," Beach said. "This puts us in control of our own emergency plan." 

Johnson said the self-distribution model is considered best practice in the health care industry.

"It provides exceptional efficiency, cost savings, and provides an additional safety net for our communities if an emergency situation arises," he said.

The facility was built to the same seismic standards for hospitals such as Intermountain Medical Center, which will further enhance deliveries in the event of an emergency, Johnson said.

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The facility is "green" in many respects, he said. Large ceiling fans move air in the warehouse and help with energy management. Skylights provide natural light.

Recycling systems are in place for all waste, although Beach said Intermountain has been working with manufacturers to limit packaging materials as much as possible.

The warehouse is so energy efficient that there is only a 3-degree difference in temperatures from the floor to the ceiling, Johnson said.

The Supply Chain Center is seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. 

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com