May 2008 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Fred Clark: Just What the Doctor Ordered

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In January 2003, Army sergeant Fred Clark was on leave at his home in Fort Hood, Texas, when his colonel called him into the office. Clark, a senior logistician, learned that the Army was moving him to a different unit, which would deploy to Kuwait in 10 days.

For 48 hours, Clark and his new unit worked nearly around the clock, packing everything they might need for a mission that - although they didn't know it at the time - would eventually take them to Baghdad.

Unit members weren't sure what they would find when they arrived in Kuwait. "We had to plan for every contingency we could think of," Clark says, "from sleeping cots and bathroom facilities to laundry arrangements and bullet inventory."

Clark no longer stocks bullets as part of his job. Today, he works as director of support services at Kingfisher Regional Hospital in Kingfisher, Okla., a small town northwest of Oklahoma City. The 25-bed critical care facility serves local residents who need a night or two of care, or who need quick attention in emergencies.

"If a farmer overturns his tractor, for example, we're here to bandage him up enough to move him by air or ambulance to the city's trauma center," Clark says.

Clark started at Kingfisher as director of materials management. After six months, he added managing plant operations personnel and housekeepers to his responsibilities. He's also in charge of ordering all supplies and making sure broken equipment is repaired promptly.

Like any supply chain professional, Clark strives to keep just the right volume of inventory in stock. That challenge is growing more complex as the local population ages, increasing demand for medical attention. In a small town, forecasting demand for medical supplies means literally keeping a finger on the local pulse.

"I feel my way around the community and check in with residents," Clark says. "I read the news and watch weather reports."

Weather reports are important because the region's fickle climate complicates inventory management. In the cooler half of the year, the weather is apt to swing from 70 degrees and sunny one day to a snow squall four days later. When that happens, more people get sick.

Also, if Clark places an order for supplies on Wednesday, and the snow starts to fly, he can't be sure the shipment will make it through the storm to arrive at the hospital on Thursday.

"If it doesn't, there won't be another delivery until the following Tuesday," he says. Then he has to hope the existing stock on the shelves can meet whatever needs may arise.

Although he's out of uniform now, Clark's work at Kingfisher Hospital isn't all that different from the logistics duties he performed during most of his years in the Army.

"Both the hospital and the Army use expensive equipment that has to be kept in good condition," he says. "When someone's heart stops, for example, you need a working defibrillator close at hand. It's equivalent to a soldier holding an M16; you have to make sure the gun works, so he's able to defend himself," Clark notes.

Fortunately for the residents of Kingfisher, their hospital's supplies are in good hands.

The Big Questions

What do you do when you're not at work?

I've been a photographer since I was 16 and my work is displayed at www.rainphotography.com. I also help coach my daughter's softball team.

Ideal dinner companion?

George Washington.

Anything in your career you'd do differently if you had the chance?

I would have gone to college right out of high school.

First Web site you look at in the morning?

MSNBC.com

If you didn't work in supply chain management, what would be your dream job?

Freelance photographer for National Geographic.

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