National Preparedness Month: Maintaining the Medical Supply Chain Amid Natural Disasters

National Preparedness Month: Maintaining the Medical Supply Chain Amid Natural Disasters

September 20, 2018

September 20, 2018 - Every day, health care providers, such as hospitals and pharmacies, receive shipments of critical medications and pharmaceutical products. The timely deliveries – a result of coordinated efforts across the pharmaceutical supply chain – ensure providers, and more importantly, patients have access to the medications they need, when and where they need it. 

However, as we saw last year with Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey, and last week with Hurricane Florence, natural disasters can quickly disrupt the supply chain, jeopardizing the medical deliveries thousands rely upon daily. Flooded roads and power outages add logistical and operational barriers to an already complex process – all at a time when there is a heightened demand for patient care.

National Preparedness Month underscores the importance of developing action plans and bolstering preparedness capabilities in preparation for emergencies. To that end, it’s critical to engage partners and organizations at the local and federal level to design a strategy that enables the medical supply chain to continue to operate as effectively and efficiently as possible in the face of a natural disaster.

As part of a preparedness plan, it is essential for health systems to collaborate with key partners, such as pharmaceutical distributors, manufacturers and local government organizations, to ensure they are equipped to treat patients both before, during and after a major weather event. For example, at AmerisourceBergen, a wholesale distributor of pharmaceutical products, we work with our customers – including pharmacies, hospitals and retailers – to provide advanced ordering options and recommendations for when and how much product to order in advance of a storm.

When a natural disaster hits, ongoing communication among stakeholders is critical to determine pressing needs in the affected communities. In the event of a hurricane, high-standing waters could pose as a significant barrier to urgent medical deliveries and patient care. In these scenarios, distributors can leverage their network of distribution centers and specialized couriers to identify alternative routes and delivery methods, such as airlifting supplies or gaining access to vehicles that can navigate the flooded roads. In fact, before Hurricane Maria even made landfall, AmerisourceBergen worked to make necessary connections with local government agencies and Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin planning and coordinating alternative routes for future deliveries.

It’s also important to plan for potential power outages and resulting loss of refrigeration during a natural disaster, which can ruin the integrity and efficacy of some pharmaceutical products, including many specialty products used to treat patients with chronic or existing life-threatening conditions. With that in mind, it is vital to identify a distribution partner with access to a refrigerated trailer that can store temperature-sensitive products in the event a distribution center or hospital loses power for an extended amount of time.

People don't think about where their medicines come from on a daily basis, and certainly not in times of critical need. They don’t consider how those pills arrived at the pharmacy or how that treatment and supplies made its way to the hospital. All that matters is that the medication is there when it’s needed. It is on those rare occasions when something like an unprecedented natural disaster jeopardizes those deliveries that the importance of collaboration and preparedness is undeniable. The daily responsibilities of a pharmaceutical distributor to maintain and strengthen the medical supply chain are amplified in times of need. It is through these preparation efforts that, amid a natural disaster, healthcare providers can continue to properly treat patients consistently and without fail.

Erin Horvath

Erin Horvath is the Senior Vice President of Distribution Services for AmerisourceBergen Corporation—one of the largest global pharmaceutical sourcing and distribution services companies. In this role, Horvath is responsible for the leading the company’s core field and corporate operations teams ensuring quality and efficiency across 27 state-of-the-art distribution centers nationwide, inclusive of operations, transportation, engineering, maintenance and much more. She is also responsible for enhancing the customer experience through customer service and technical support functions who handle all inquiries regarding our online ordering platform. In addition, Horvath supports the company’s sales team by managing Business Operations. Horvath is also responsible for the company’s continuous improvement work. Using Lean Six Sigma methodology grounded in improving the customer experience, Horvath and team saved more than 10 million dollars by dramatically reducing internal product damages during the implementation of continuous improvement.