Answering the Call in the Battle Against COVID-19
For the past three months, populations throughout the world have been sheltering in place to avoid illness and stop the spread of COVID-19, a potentially fatal illness that typically affects the human respiratory system. In cases of extreme hypoxemia, or below-normal levels of oxygen in the blood, many healthcare providers have recommended the use of medical ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients in severe respiratory distress. As our nation ramped up its efforts to produce much-needed ventilators for use in medical treatment facilities, senior Army leadership sought out a medical procurement expert with strong acquisition skills to help accomplish this critical mission.
Fortunately, Dr. Tyler Bennett fit the bill for the assignment.
As project manager for the Warfighter Deployed Medical Systems Project Management Office at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, Bennett spends most of his time overseeing a large team of acquisition and project management professionals working together to deliver and sustain deployable medical capabilities for our nation's Warfighters. On a daily basis, the WDMS PMO provides lifecycle management for more than 140 unique medical assemblages that are fielded to over 2,200 Army units. Each assemblage includes hundreds to thousands of medical items, including technical medical equipment. Not surprisingly, this includes medical ventilators, which made Bennett the right choice for the job.
"I was called on April 5th and asked to report the next day to the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency office in Washington, D.C.," said Bennett. "I worked on the Ventilator Integration Team under the Joint Acquisition Task Force–Supply Chain Stabilization, in support of the Department of Health and Human Services and DHS. The team leader was a high-speed Army Lieutenant Colonel with a very strong acquisition background, and I was assigned as his Ventilator Production Lead."
During his six-week assignment, Bennett was responsible for tracking the day-to-day production of ventilators under contract with 10 different commercial vendors across the country.
"We would call the vendors every morning to identify how many ventilators were sitting on their dock ready to ship, and coordinate deliveries with the HHS contract officer and the Strategic National Stockpile," he explained. "The team was composed of experts from the Department of Defense, HHS, and DHS, and we provided expertise to the contracting office on all aspects of the 10 contracts. Within four weeks, we delivered over 5,000 ventilators to hospitals and the Strategic National Stockpile, helping to ensure that everyone in America that needed a ventilator could get one."
Bennett said that his work at USAMMDA was very helpful in securing his temporary detail at FEMA, as the assignment related directly to his duties as project manager of the WDMS PMO.
"My team at USAMMDA is responsible for procuring and fielding medical equipment, to include ventilators. In fact, several of the vendors under contract for the Strategic National Stockpile are the very same ones we use to field medical equipment to our Army units," he said.
Despite the similarities between his regular position and the temporary assignment, Bennett believes the experience will prove very beneficial to his work at USAMMDA. He said he learned a new level of detail about ventilators and the ventilator supply chain that he never realized existed. He also complimented his teammates at FEMA, citing them as "extremely competent" and "very dedicated" to the task at hand. He considers the six-week detail as having been a phenomenal opportunity for him, both professionally and personally.
"Our team leader accepted no excuses in getting the job accomplished," said Bennett. "The hours were very long, but the team was focused and kept it fun at the same time. It was very rewarding."
While Bennett's knowledge of Army acquisition and medical capabilities allowed him to acclimate quickly to the team and the assignment, his effectiveness as the ventilator production lead helped to provide HHS leadership with a blueprint to stand up its own team. During the latter half of the mission, the HHS team brought in additional experts from across the nation to serve as replacements for Bennett and his teammates, which ensured there would be no gaps or delays in the continual production of ventilators for the COVID-19 effort.
Army Col. Gina Adam, USAMMDA commander, is very proud of Bennett's work on this critical temporary assignment. She says this is indicative of the work he and his entire WDMS PMO team carry out on a daily basis in support of the organization's mission to develop and deliver quality medical capabilities to protect, treat and sustain the health of our Service Members.
"When the leaders of this team called and asked for an acquisition professional who could help lead in a fast-paced environment with a nebulous set of problems to solve, I thought of Dr. Bennett," said Adam. "Even though his team was heavily engaged with many important parts of the COVID response, I knew they were a strong team and would manage their mission, even with him detailed to another team. Sending Tyler to help with this mission was the right thing to do for the Nation's response, and I'm glad he found it to be a fulfilling opportunity as well."
Bennett said he greatly missed his USAMMDA family during his six-week detail, and he is very happy to be back in his role as WDMS PMO project manager. However, he knows he will never forget the fast-paced daily routine he experienced with his FEMA teammates during an unprecedented time in the history of our world.
"Although it's good to be back, I will miss the temporary DHS role and the people I met," said Bennett. "But I departed there knowing the mission was executed well and that the connections I made there will last a lifetime."
"I am very thankful to USAMRDC and USAMMDA leadership for allowing me the opportunity to serve on the Ventilator Team," he added. "It gave me a rare opportunity to work with HHS, DHS, and the DOD to solve one of the Nation's most difficult problems to date."
USAMMDA is a subordinate command of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, under the Army Futures Command. As the premier developer of world-class military medical capabilities, USAMMDA is responsible for developing and delivering critical products designed to protect and preserve the lives of Warfighters across the globe. USAMRDC is leading research to prevent, detect and treat COVID-19. USAMMDA is applying existing field-leading research capabilities, a global research network and established partnerships to support the Whole-of-Government response to COVID-19.