Pharmaceutical 3PL companies plan for and test scenarios to face logistics challenges during emergency situations. WDSrx, a pharmaceutical 3PL based in Boca Raton, FL, modified their disaster recovery plans for the COVID-19 pandemic to assure medications continue to be moved efficiently within the healthcare supply chain.
“Our experience with continuing operations in Florida and Texas during hurricanes including Harvey and Irma in 2017 provide ‘on-the-job’ intelligence that informed our decision-making around COVID-19,” states WDSrx VP Rob Gerstein. This targeted expertise is a valuable benefit for WDSrx clients. According to a report by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), from 2016 to 2018, the average number of billion-dollar disasters totaled 15 each year, while the average for 1980–2018 was just 6.2 events per year.
Unlike natural disasters, COVID-19 was not forecast in advance. Changes to procedures were addressed on a case-by-case-basis across all WDSrx facilities. Decisions about Quality Assurance, Regulatory Compliance, Human Resources, Operations and Information Technology were made given the most up-to-date information available to assure employee health, maintain jobs and continue operations.
Quality Assurance/Regulatory Compliance
WDSrx facilities adhere to cGMP and cGDP practices for handling and distribution of pharmaceutical drug products in the Code of Federal Regulations 21 CFR 210-211 administered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These guidelines specify rigorous hygiene practices for building maintenance and also for employees.
In February, 2020, full-time on-site cleaning, sanitation and maintenance teams at all WDSrx facilities began heightened hygiene protocols. In addition to regular cleaning conducted throughout each day, heavily contacted surfaces were sanitized frequently. Written instructions about personal hygiene were posted in high-traffic areas, cleaning products including hand sanitizer and disinfecting spray were made available at several locations in each building and masks, gloves and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) were issued.
New protocols were adopted in the warehouse for receipt of products from international destinations heavily affected by coronavirus. WDSrx has deep expertise assuring smooth flow of goods into and out of warehouse facilities. Imported products are segregated upon arrival at the dock, then checked and sanitized before being held in a quarantine area prior to receipt.
The WDSrx Human Resources Department added COVID-19 discussion to daily executive team meetings starting mid-February. Topics were focused on employee health and wellness. Select employees were instructed to work from home, policies were modified for Paid Time Off to accommodate specific needs, managers were empowered to monitor health of their teams to reduce virus spread and new policies were initiated for employees to self-quarantine at home that had contact with patients who tested positive for COVID-19. According to WDSrx Human Resources Manager Melissa Gallagher, “Current policies are being reexamined and new policies written to instill employee confidence, protect our workforce and respond to unique HR challenges due to coronavirus while we continue to staff our facilities for maximum efficiency.”
Coordinating with the marketing department, HR increased their regular communication with employees to distribute news and information, virtual meetings replaced in-person meetings even within the same building, employees working remotely were instructed to check in directly with managers during the day for casual conversation to reduce isolation and maintain a positive group dynamic.
From the perspective of WDSrx Director of Information Technology Carl Ambroise, data security is a constant priority to comply with government authorities overseeing pharmaceutical logistics and supply chain companies. Changing policies encouraging remote work required adjustments to normal practices. “Our security network expanded to include hardware and software for employees working continuously from remote locations,” states Ambroise.
The IT team accommodated new work policies within each facility as well to improve business continuity in the face of logistics challenges. For example, a policy recommending video conferencing for internal meetings to maintain social distancing resulted in increased allocation of webcams and microphones.
Traditionally, WDSrx welcomes visitors for client and new business meetings, facility maintenance, audits by regulatory authorities, vendor communication, community outreach and other purposes. With visitors prohibited from all facilities except for essential reasons, alternative arrangements are in effect to safeguard employee health.
Receiving and shipping into and out of WDSrx facilities occurs regularly throughout each day and into the evenings. Prior to pandemic provoked logistics challenges, drivers delivering products or awaiting orders for empty trucks entered approved employee areas to rest, enjoy a cup of coffee or use the bathrooms. When policies were implemented forbidding outside visitors, water stations were set up in a protected area to serve transportation providers. Although social distancing policies may seem impersonal, they are meant to safeguard individuals from potential exposure to illness and assure business continuity.
WDSrx Director of Operations Eric Nestler is responsible for streamlining operations under normal and emergency circumstances. “We advanced several projects that were already approved and initiated new procedures to minimize virus spread and continue operating efficiently amidst logistics challenges,” explains Nestler. For example, a stand-alone generator that was scheduled for placement at the WDSrx facility in Pompano Beach, Florida was delivered and installed with an expedited timeline. The new unit has the ability to power the entire facility for up to ten days if required.
Logistics services providers including WDSrx with previous experience operating in disaster and emergency situations are better prepared than competitors to fulfill client orders in the midst of logistics challenges posed by COVID-19 related business disruptions.
WDSrx put in place proactive and protective measures designed to prevent any spread of COVID-19 in our workplace. To further control the spread of the virus, WDSrx is fulfilling orders of COVID-19 antibody tests on behalf of clients. Results from these tests reveal whether a person’s immune system has developed antibodies needed to fight off COVID-19. Tests of this type may indicate a person’s fitness to return to work.
Established procedures proven effective in the past may not serve current requirements. New policies must be implemented that were not previously within the realm of possibility. Logistics firms in which leadership stresses consistent innovation and continuous improvement embrace a work culture conducive to the flexibility and decisiveness required to maintain optimal operations during times of uncertainty.
Watch our video about the COVID-19 pandemic.