Management at Memphis, Tenn.-based Grace Medical—a maker of ear implants and other instruments used by otolaryngologists—first started paying attention to the novel coronavirus in January. At that time, the effects of the virus were little more than a question mark. Maybe, they thought, it would be nothing.
Explore This IssueJune 2020
In February, as concerns grew that the virus would have an effect on the United States, managers started work on a business continuity plan—a way to keep the business going even if a global pandemic began to shut down the economy, said Michael Crook, Grace’s chief operating officer. But at that point, it was more of a “just in case we need it” plan.
“We began setting up ways to access our server and for employees to be able to work remotely in any kind of disaster,” said Crook.
It soon became clear that the “just in case we need it” plan would indeed have to be put into action for the COVID-19 pandemic—and quickly. In March, the company transitioned many administrative employees, such as those in customer service, to working from home. The company also started daily sanitizing in its manufacturing facilities, stopped frequent executive business travel, and dramatically altered a previously rosy financial outlook.
Since the economic shutdown took hold in mid-March, device companies big and small that work closely with health professionals in the otolaryngology field have had to make sweeping changes to the way they conduct business, test products, interact with patients, and develop new technologies. The pandemic has tested their wherewithal and adaptability as never before, and, try as they might to craft an outlook that could help them plan for the next several months, no one is quite sure what to expect. Still, most companies expect a sharp, but only temporary, slowdown and say they’re continuing with manufacturing and innovation.
At Grace Medical, the plan has worked so far. “What we’ve found is that we can function as a business with the administrative parts in a remote location, and I think that’s something that was a big question mark,” Crook said. “That being said, some functions at the business, like manufacturing and distribution, have to be on site to continue operating.”
The way the manufacturing process is set up at Grace Medical’s facilities has been an advantage, with machines and molding equipment naturally spacing employees at least six feet apart, or with barriers already up between workspaces. “It’s just by luck that we were already set up that way,” Crook said.
About four to six times a day, Grace Medical’s facilities are wiped down and cleaned up—a routine effort at keeping everything sanitized, he said. Also, break and lunch times have been put onto a staggered schedule to avoid crowding in common areas.
Still, the effects of the virus have been severe. Every year for about 13 years, Grace Medical had seen growth in the double digits. According to Crook, due to effects from COVID-19, Grace’s sales for April are down about 80%. “It’s had a significant effect on our business.”