Most days, pharmaceutical distributors fulfill their vital role largely unnoticed. Patients take for granted their medications will reach them safely and quickly. They don’t think about the systems, protocols, professionalism and technology required to make delivery seamless from manufacturer to pharmacy and, ultimately, to them.
In a natural disaster, however, the critical role of distributors is magnified as the industry uses their logistics expertise to quickly spring into action to deliver medical supplies and disaster aid. Patients’ lives and health are at stake since significant delays without their insulin, blood pressure, cardiac, antibiotic or other critical-care drugs can be fatal. It is in these moments that distributors rise to the challenge.
Last month’s Tropical Storm Barry highlighted the important role distributors play in the Gulf Coast region. While Barry didn’t leave behind the devastation some had dreaded, it served as a reminder of the need — and challenges — to maintain medical supply-chains during natural disasters.
Crisis response honed
For Morris & Dickson Co. L.L.C., delivering medications to customers under extreme weather conditions has long been core to its mission. Throughout its 178-year-old history, the Shreveport, Louisiana-based, family-owned company has endured some of the country’s most devastating natural disasters. Throughout those calamities, it has honed its crisis response and won the trust and admiration of its community and clients.
Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita of 2005 provide the clearest examples of how Morris & Dickson, along with the country’s other pharmaceutical distributors, responded to ensure critical medicines reached patients in need. The two disasters, separated by just a few weeks, pummeled southeast Louisiana and southwest Texas. They left many hospitals without power and exposed retail druggists to floodwater, heat and looters.
Delivering when needed most
Drawing upon lessons from earlier natural disasters, Morris & Dickson kicked into high gear and made deliveries throughout the Gulf Coast in the hours before Katrina arrived inland. Navigating treacherous conditions, Morris & Dickson drivers often arrived at hospitals before any other aid workers.
Because of the Morris & Dickson team’s tireless efforts, many of their customers did not experience any serious disruptions to its supply chain. For example, Slidell Memorial Hospital, which had no electricity or water in the aftermath of Katrina, was able to perform 45,000 inoculations for tetanus and hepatitis A and B.
Morris & Dickson also proved to be adept and working with government officials to cut red tape. In the aftermath of Katrina, it was the only private distributor invited to a crucial meeting with federal and state officials at the Board of Pharmacy office in Baton Rouge where they discussed the most efficient ways to deliver supplies to those in need. Within four days of that meeting, Morris & Dickson recorded:
- 29 deliveries from the drug distribution warehouse in Baton Rouge;
- 63 deliveries to 28 emergency shelters; and,
- 130 deliveries to 10 Gulf Coast hospitals.
Prepared for the worst
Morris & Dickson collected more than just tales of heroism from those hurricanes. It also picked up lessons about how to more effectively serve clients before and after a natural disaster strikes. Barry showed the company is now more prepared than ever.
When predictions about high-flooding from Barry surfaced, Morris & Dickson activated full hurricane preparation protocols. This included soliciting all hospitals in the Gulf Coast for pre-strike orders that would carry their inventory for at least five days. It also included canvassing drivers for emergency availability who could deliver throughout the region under any condition. Those volunteers — which included regular drivers, sales representatives, Dickson family members and others in company management — were issued official vehicle placards and identification as emergency supplies delivery.
Additionally, alternate communication protocols were validated in the case of loss of cell towers along the coast. Alternate routing was also established to contend with potentially flooded roadways. In the end, Barry was not as bad as feared; deliveries to all pharmacies and medical facilities continued with regular delivery drivers and were made on time. The Morris & Dickson team continues to learn from these preparations and stands ready for the next emergency.
Trust in a business is not something that can be won overnight. It must be earned over time. For pharmaceutical distributors, that means delivering time and again — when they need you most.
For additional information on the significant role distributors play within the healthcare supply chain, read the Healthcare Distribution Alliance’s (HDA) new report.