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 PharMerica Takes Detour Amid Calif. Mudslides, Keeps Prescriptions Flowing

Disaster planning has paid off in a big way for PharMerica Corp. and its clients affected by the California mudslides in recent weeks with prescription delivery services forced to move from highways to the water for a series of ferryboat trips. This emergency change has kept life-and-death medicines in the hands of providers for distribution to hundreds of patients living in facilities cutoff from the normal pharmacy-to-nursing care supply route. 
T.J. Griffin, RPh., chief pharmacy officer, PharMerica, tells Provider how the deadly turn in weather caused not only loss of life, but triggered disaster plans when large swaths of the Pacific Coast Highway (Route 101) succumbed to the rain and mud.
“We have a pharmacy in Ventura, Calif., which is just south of Santa Barbara and just north of Los Angeles. And obviously that is the same area that was devastated by the wild fires late in fall,” he says. The extreme dry weather that caused the fires led directly to the next disaster.
“Typically, January and February are some of the wettest periods of the year in California. So, it was not unexpected when they had a pretty good rainstorm that this would cause mudslides. But to this extent, it was just unprecedented,” Griffin says. “So, the same areas that got burned unfortunately now were subjected to mudslides because of there was no remaining vegetation to hold the earth back.”
The washout of the Pacific Coast Highway, which is the main north-south thoroughfare up and down the California coast, started on Jan. 9 and it may only re-open in the coming days. In this interim period, PharMerica staff knew they had to act on their own detour route to make it work.
“Our Ventura pharmacy services the greater Santa Barbara and Montecito area and that is north of Ventura, so with the road washed out you are not going to be delivering by car. Added to that problem, the alternate route up to Santa Barbara and Montecito would turn the normal one-hour commute into six hours because you are talking about going through meandering mountain highways,” he says.
Being there is access to the water meant just one thing: ferryboats.
“There is a daily ferry boat that leaves every Monday through Friday and so instead of using vehicles for the northern route we take our deliveries, our daily totes are now being delivered to the ferry,” Griffin says. “The ferry is then able to get around the mudslide and we have a technician who lives in in Santa Barbara. She cannot get to work so she meets the ferry boat every day and actually one of our own technicians becomes the driver and she makes the delivery to the nursing facilities in that northern area.”
On the weekends when the ferry service is quiet, the pharmacy services from PharMerica are made via the Amtrak train. “The ferryboat is in our disaster protocol for our coastal pharmacies that have ferry abilities, and the train as well,” he adds.
Even if the plan has been in place, the use of the actual ferryboat option is a first time for PharMerica, which has become a new norm for the company of late considering how pharmaceuticals were also delivered by the non-traditional route of helicopter during last year’s horrendous Houston floods.
“These weather events have really kept us on our toes,” Griffin says. He stresses that every year brings some sort of emergency issue, be it hurricanes in Florida or up along the Eastern Seaboard to the mudslides of late along the West Coast.
“We often have to implement a disaster plan because of normal winter weather,” he says, pointing to how two inches of snow in a Southern city like Atlanta will prompt preparations ahead of time to stock up on needed drugs. “We have to maintain continuity. If there are two inches of snow in Boston, you don’t have to pick up the phone, but Charleston, S.C., got eight inches of snow recently and we needed to start making those phone calls.”
Not only do PharMerica clients have to have their medicines available but in a lot of instances, because hospitals discharge very rapidly to make sure they have beds for emergency victims, there will be added patients sent to long term and post-acute care facilities as a result. 
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