October 10, 2019 - Natural disasters – like hurricanes, heavy floods, tornadoes and extreme fires – can happen anywhere, and at any time. These weather events often last only a few minutes, hours or days, but their deep impact on a community and its public health can be felt for weeks, months or years. As most people consider a storm’s destruction and aftermath, they often focus on returning the public’s access to food, water and shelter. While these three basic needs are extremely critical, there is also a fourth that is often overlooked: medicine. Natural disasters can affect the entire healthcare system by disrupting the pharmaceutical supply chain and limiting access to vital medications.
Pharmaceutical distributors, who have the responsibility of ensuring medicines are delivered safely and securely to patients every day, have a heightened role during natural disasters as efficient and timely delivery of medications become simultaneously more difficult and more critical. In order to address these challenges, distributors work closely with public and private stakeholders to successfully coordinate disaster preparedness plans before, during and after severe weather events to ensure the availability of therapies for every patient.
As the link between pharma manufacturers and healthcare providers, pharmaceutical distributors must maintain ongoing communication with their partners – despite the most challenging conditions – to prevent the disruption of services. But, this communication needs to start well before an impending storm. For example, AmerisourceBergen, a wholesale distributor of pharmaceutical products, servicing more than 50,000 healthcare facilities nationwide, collaborates with customers to assess the medication needs of their communities. We work with hospitals, pharmacies, and other care providers to monitor their inventory levels, determine appropriate product supply for emergencies, and provide them with advanced ordering options before a disaster hits. We also consider what unique medications might be in higher demand following an event and work with customers to pre-stock them. For example, when Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas in 2017, the storm displaced poisonous snakes, heightening the need for hospitals to have more snake bite treatments.
During a natural disaster, one of the major barriers to patient care is power outages. The loss of power, specifically refrigeration, can be problematic for temperature-controlled drugs, including specialized therapies used to treat patients with chronic conditions. However, distributors can work with their partners to prepare contingency plans to make sure these sensitive products will not be compromised. In fact, we use refrigerated trailers and on-site backup generators when necessary at our distribution centers to ensure medicines remain viable in the event of a long-term power outage.
In addition to power outages, inaccessible or blocked roads can also be an obstacle to transporting urgent medical supplies. Flooding, debris or even stalled traffic can dramatically interrupt the delivery of time-sensitive products to patients. In anticipation of these delays, distributors plan for alternative delivery routes and transportation methods. In some cases, we mobilize sturdy vehicles that can withstand floodwaters or airlift critical supplies to reach affected communities. AmerisourceBergen has also worked with dedicated ground teams within an impacted area to prioritize deliveries to hospitals with local couriers, government organizations and the military.
It takes a broad, coordinated effort to support communities throughout disaster preparedness and relief. While it may not be commonly known, there is an entire network of organizations working behind the scenes to minimize damage and restore services as quickly as possible – including access to pharmaceuticals. AmerisourceBergen is proud to work with impactful partners, like Healthcare Ready, to make sure patients receive treatments when and where they need it, and ultimately, help restore a sense of normalcy to communities after a devastating event.