ARLINGTON, Va. — Taking on a new leadership role is never easy; taking the helm during a global pandemic, however, especially when job No. 1 for the organization’s members involves keeping the country’s vital medical supply chain running smoothly, defines daunting.
But being named president and chief executive officer of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA) in March as the rapid spread of COVID-19 began to dominate headlines is the deck of cards Chip Davis was handed — and he’s up to the challenge and buoyed by the people across the supply chain, the many spokes in the wheel that keep it all turning.
“I started at HDA in early March and literally within two weeks we were in full-blown crisis mode,” Davis says. “But I have to say, in terms of the impact of [COVID-19], I’ve been awestruck at the resiliency of the supply chain and its response to this pandemic.”
Prior to joining HDA, Davis was president and CEO of the Association for Accessible Medicines (AAM), the nation’s leading trade association for manufacturers of generic and biosimilar medicines, serving in that capacity since 2015.
In his current role, Davis oversees HDA’s day-to-day operations and works with the HDA board to set the strategic vision to guide the organization forward.
Healthcare distribution, Davis points out, is more than just delivering goods — especially when those goods are medical needs; it’s about getting the right medicines to the right patients at the right time “safely and efficiently.”
According to Davis, distributors work 24/7 across the vast pharmaceutical supply chain to ensure that hundreds of thousands of pharmacies, hospitals, long-term-care facilities, clinics and other health care providers throughout the country keep their shelves stocked with the medications and products that patients require.
“These distributors are the logistics experts in health care, making sure 92% of the medicines purchased in the country are delivered,” Davis says, adding that this essential supply chain connects 180,000 providers and pharmacies with 1,300 drug manufacturers nationwide, with millions of orders moving through this chain daily to supply health care facilities. “And now, distributors are quickly adapting and responding to the [pandemic] while still fulfilling the needs of Americans who rely on this supply chain for their medicines and health care needs.”
It’s no surprise that the importance of the supply chain has increased due to the crisis, but Davis says those tasked with keeping it flowing are meeting this unique challenge head on.
“We’ve seen quite a bit of surges for COVID-related treatments in areas such as respiratory, asthma and pain meds,” Davis says, noting that orders for certain items and medications reached record levels — in some cases as much as 25 to 75 times normal levels. “The ability to be quick and to adapt to leverage relationships is never more important when you’re trying to not just meet historical demand but adapt to changes in the health care marketplace,” Davis says.
But more than adjusting to the unprecedented now, those across the supply chain are also looking ahead to anticipate the needs of patients once the country returns to whatever the “new normal” is going to be — with a particular focus on making sure the supply chain is prepared to deliver a vaccine, whenever, if ever, that vaccine is available.
Ensuring all the links of the chain are connected so that the American public has access to the medications that they need in the interim until a vaccine or successful treatment hits the market will require a coordinated effort and response by many players, including not just individuals in the public health system but those at all levels of government. “Everybody is going to have a critical role to play,” Davis says.
Of course, in order to maintain the viability of the supply chain it is paramount that employers keep their workers, especially those in distribution centers charged with moving medical inventory, safe and healthy. “All of our members have in place programs to ensure the safety and health of their employees,” adds Davis.
So far, throughout the course of this pandemic, the pharma supply chain has stood up very well, in Davis’ view. A number of HDA members, he says, have been working with local health care providers as needs arise even more so than under normal circumstances, especially with independent pharmacies to figure out what stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders mean for independent pharmacists’ ability to continue to serve their patients.
Davis also believes that once COVID-19 is history there will be lessons to be learned — from what went right and where challenges were met and from what went wrong and can be improved upon. “And I think both of those things are going to be the subject of a lot of public dialogue with policy makers at the federal and state level and with the industry,” he says.
As with any crisis, there is also opportunity — and Davis believes that the COVID-19 pandemic will only further demonstrate the resiliency of the medical supply chain working with upstream and downstream partners. “And I can assure you that that’s what our members are focused on,” he says. “And whatever the new normal is ultimately going to look like coming out of this, I can assure you that mindset is not going to change.”
In his short time at HDA as he continues to more fully understand the complexities of the medical supply chain, Davis is reminded of how much we often take for granted in America, especially when it comes to having access to the medications we need, and that perhaps there will be greater recognition of that reality and a little more appreciation of all that goes in to making that happen once the dust has settle.
“And more importantly,” he adds, “recognizing that the expertise that our members have can be utilized to strengthen the supply chain and strengthen the U.S. health care system as we move forward.”