Pharmacy Pandemic Perspectives – Kimberly Blandford, RPh
By Nancy Barney – Senior Resource Advisor
We are now at the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us are missing family or social events for a second time, due to the Public Health Emergency (PHE) being extended again. Social distancing and masks (and now waiting for vaccines) are still a reality.
We also know from speaking with our clients that the pandemic has put increased pressure on the way you do business and provide essential services to your customers. And yet when we have reached out to speak with many of you about the impact of COVID on your business, we have heard stories not only of survival but of resilience, success and lessons learned despite all the restrictions and challenges in dealing with such a historical event.
Below is a pandemic perspective from one of your colleagues:
Kimberly Blandford, RPh
Sr. Director, Home Infusion Therapy and Home Medical Equipment
Banner Post-Acute Services, Gilbert, AZ
COVID impacted our business in both a positive and negative way. Home infusion faced shortages of PPE, controlled substances, nutrition support products, antibiotics, and medical supplies, due in part to increased need and use, as well as manufacturer issues and shipping delays. We did collaborate across our health system to properly place patients seeking alternates to previous hospital-based treatments which resulted in home infusion growth.
The Home Infusion Therapy customer relationship remained strong throughout 2020. Our Customer Service scores, and survey responses did not experience a decline. Patients appreciated the ‘Patients over Paperwork’ policy that relaxed signature requirements for proof of deliveries. This protected the patients and their families as well as delivery technicians and helped minimize PPE utilization. Several patients and community members made fabric masks (by the hundreds) for Banner employees.
COVID brought better (and faster) communication and results across Banner in the form of meetings, newsletters and Town Halls. Initially the communication had a COVID focus but as the months elapsed, it became a sharing of what individual departments were doing, could do and how to capitalize on existing system processes.
For instance, Post- Acute services had Telehealth in place before COVID and we acted as subject matter experts when the hospitals built and implemented their program for discharged patients needing support. Often, the communication contained a ‘win’ with an uplifting patient or employee story shared. Pharmacy leaders are also members of several national benchmarking groups and met and shared experiences as an aid to each other. Of course, we appreciated the webinars that TCT provided, and Charlie Lager (TCT Senior Pharmacy Advisor) acted as a resource for questions throughout the year.
The pharmacy staff is very close, and we missed not sharing our usual birthday and holiday celebrations in person. While the holiday party was postponed, we managed to hold smaller birthday gatherings outside with social distancing in place and shared photos with staff who were working from home that day. The pharmacy reached out to other departments and worked together to obtain various backordered items to continue to service patients across all service lines. We also relied on past experiences of team members during times of drug shortages to adeptly move in a new direction that allowed seamless patient care.
Prior to COVID, the Home Infusion pharmacy staff worked exclusively from the office. To conserve PPE stock and socially distance team members, we moved to a mixed work from home and office schedule with staff rotating between both locations. Our IT department partnered with the pharmacy for provision of equipment and access for uninterrupted work. The Home Infusion team was very successful in adapting to the new work process and we have plans to continue with a hybrid staffing model post COVID. The team’s ability to transition to remote work and continue to successfully treat patients was a point of pride amongst all. Staff had been cross trained previously and this was a help when we had callouts.
Flexibility in adapting to a crisis. Better connectivity across our Health System. Giving grace to others during difficult times. There were some tough days during the past year, and we helped each other pull through and provide great customer service to our patients and each other.