Bringing Our Communities Back to Health.
When COVID-19 hit, it offered Becky Bean and the pharmacy team at Novant Health an unprecedented opportunity to do the most important work they’ve ever done.
On Dec. 17, 2020, the public rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine began at Novant Health.
From day one, the effort carried the intensity that had come to define all healthcare work during the pandemic, said Becky Bean, chief pharmacy executive at Novant Health. Patients flocked to mass vaccination sites and clinics. Volunteers came in droves to support the work. At Novant Health, Bean and the pharmacy team were tasked with managing the sourcing, storage and precise distribution of vaccine doses for thousands.
At the same time, the work offered an unprecedented opportunity to bring our communities back to health and safety.
“We received vaccines in our hospitals, and then we had to courier them out to different locations,” Bean said. “We account for five and a half doses per vial, and that’s the number of appointments we would schedule. You have to get to that level of precision. Initially, our No. 1 priority was to avoid wasting doses. As supply increased, our priority shifted to not wasting an opportunity to vaccinate an individual. We have to get vaccine into the community and create a variety of access points to make it as easy as possible to get vaccinated.”
Over the past two years, intensity has become the norm for the pharmacy team, as they have worked to secure medications, enter clinical trials, compound critical supplies and navigate mass distribution of the fastest vaccines ever to hit the market.
“In early January of 2020, we started planning ahead around drug supply,” Bean said. “We were activated very early on as we were starting to learn more about COVID-19. We didn’t want to hoard drugs, but we wanted to be prepared. The pharmacy supply chain is delicate. Dramatic shifts in ordering have the potential to create extreme drug shortages downstream. We did a lot very early on to make sure we had enough drugs to be able to take care of our patients.”
Bean worked closely with the central team that manages procurement across the Novant Health system. And as facilities shut down surgeries, they pulled drugs off those units and allocated them to other areas of the hospitals to ensure they never ran out of anything.
“That procurement strategy was critical to our success because we always had a good line of sight around what drugs we were watching,” Bean said. “It was a very well-oiled machine.”
Bean also started planning pharmacy staffing scenarios, assessing what it would look like if the pharmacy team faced a significant staffing shortage.
“If we had people out because they tested positive or if more patients came in, we could flip a switch and have the staffing we needed,” Bean said. “We also looked at all job roles across pharmacy and figured out who could be virtual and made sure they had all the technology they needed to be successful.”
Novant Health’s pharmacy research efforts also ramped up tenfold during COVID-19, Bean said.
“The time to identify and get us enrolled in a clinical trial was so fast. It was a great strategy to contribute to the body of evidence around how we’re going to conquer COVID. For our patients, it meant they would get access to the latest treatments for COVID-19,” Bean said. “That was very rewarding. There was always this sense that, ‘This could be the drug that’s going to help us cure COVID-19.’”
Bean and her team also got to work helping Novant Health navigate the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Using a USDA-endorsed recipe, Novant Health pharmacists partnered with a local distillery and began compounding hand sanitizer. They also compounded the solution necessary to conduct fit testing on N95 masks, which were in short supply.
“That’s not the traditional work we do in pharmacy, but it was needed for our teams,” Bean said. “Over the course of the pandemic, there has been so much collaboration and partnership. As hard as it’s been, there have also been many silver linings. It makes me proud to see the pharmacy team supporting things that would normally be outside the pharmacy swim lane.”
Now, one year after the public rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, the pharmacy team at Novant Health is in a new phase of operations. Another new variant of the novel coronavirus — omicron — has surfaced, and the CDC is recommending all vaccinated adults receive a booster shot. Children ages 5 and older are now eligible to be vaccinated, and anyone who has not yet received a COVID-19 vaccination is encouraged to do so.
As they have with every shift over the course of the pandemic, Bean and her team are adapting to this latest phase with the same energy and commitment they’ve shown throughout this journey.
“I can’t overstate my gratitude for the number of people who have gone above and beyond to be a part of something as impactful as this vaccine effort,” Bean said. “I don’t think I anticipated how many people wanted to give up so much of their time to be part of this work. Look at what we’re doing for the communities that we serve. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than this vaccine work.”
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You can support the remarkable work of team members across Novant Health with a contribution through Novant Health Foundation. You can support the health of our communities by getting a vaccine or a booster. It’s the best way to win our battle against COVID-19.