Hospital pharmacy improvements: The success story of Upper Allegheny Health System

This content is sponsored by CompleteRx

While it's been said many times that the healthcare industry is evolving as a whole, nowhere is that more true than in the world of hospital pharmacy.

"It's changed so much over the last 10 years," says Terry Andrus, president and CEO of CompleteRx, a hospital pharmacy management company. Changes occur frequently in the areas of technology, regulations, drug shortages and drug prices, making it difficult for hospital administrators and pharmacy directors to keep up.

That is what initially led Upper Allegheny Health System — a two-hospital system based in Olean, N.Y., with one hospital in New York and one in Pennsylvania — to call in CompleteRx to help optimize its pharmacy functions and meet regulatory necessities.

The relationship between UAHS and CompleteRx dates back to 2011, when Tim Finan, the system's president and CEO, reached out to Mr. Andrus and the CompleteRx team. According to Mr. Andrus, UAHS was looking for operational and cost efficiencies in the system's pharmacy department.

In the case of UAHS, CompleteRx helped the hospital greatly in three main areas: leadership, automation and regulatory compliance, according to Mr. Andrus and Joe Vargas, a regional operations director with CompleteRx who heads up the relationship with UAHS.

These issues lead many hospitals and health systems to reach out for help, but that doesn't mean CompleteRx uses a standardized approach for all of its pharmacies.

"Every hospital and system is different. There is no cookie-cutter approach where you can force a square peg into a round hole," Mr. Andrus says of CompleteRx's approach with customers.

Below is a breakdown of how CompleteRx worked with UAHS to help it achieve operational and financial efficiencies in its hospital pharmacies.


UAHS isn't alone in facing leadership issues in the hospital pharmacy — Mr. Vargas and Mr. Andrus both characterize leadership as the No. 1 reason CompleteRx is called into help health systems. "It's really difficult in today's environment for a director of pharmacy to have all of the skills necessary to run a hospital pharmacy," Mr. Andrus says.

According to Mr. Vargas, there had been instability in the role of pharmacy director at UAHS for a number of reasons, including the hospitals' rural location.

"We struggled to fill that position with a qualified applicant, part of that is because we're in a more rural area and it's difficult to draw talent into that area," he says.

During the pharmacy director search at UAHS, CompleteRx provided leadership in the form of interim directors from what Mr. Andrus calls the company's "cadre of seasoned directors of pharmacy who have worked in a multitude of environments."

As a more permanent solution, CompleteRx helped develop a pharmacist who was already part of the UAHS system who eventually became director of pharmacy there.


In addition to leadership challenges, UAHS was experiencing problems related to automation in its hospital pharmacies. Before calling in CompleteRx, the system had automatic dispensing carts made by a company in Israel. "They basically didn't work," says Mr. Vargas. While the system and CompleteRx tried get the carts to function within UAHS' information system, the cart company went bankrupt and closed down.

To fix the problem, CompleteRx brought in several automation companies and helped UAHS vet them and improve its medicine distribution process.

Beyond addressing the dispensing cart issue, the two organizations also upgraded the pharmacy information system to help the system meet meaningful use requirements. "The pharmacy is instrumental in providing resources to be able to meet those requirements," Mr. Vargas says.


Regulation was a struggle for UAHS primarily because its two hospitals are in different states. To increase efficiency and integrate pharmacy systems between the two hospitals — like the operating system and staffing — CompleteRx worked to get both pharmacies licensed in both New York and Pennsylvania.

Additionally, CompleteRx worked with the system's hospitals to get the pharmacies up to USP 797 standards, which pertain to sterile preparation in the pharmacy. "We did a complete cleanroom remodel in both hospitals, and put processes and policies in place to make sure they were compliant with the new requirements," Mr. Vargas says.

Where is UAHS now?

Leadership, automation and regulatory problems are only a few of the areas that CompleteRx and UAHS have addressed in their nearly five-year relationship. While the two still have an agreement in place and opportunities for more improvement, UAHS has already seen the positive effects of the collaboration. Since 2011, Mr. Vargas describes the difference as "night and day."

"When you walked into the pharmacy [before], it looked like pandemonium," he says. "When you walk in now, it's just a nice quiet environment. Still very busy, but it's orderly."

The system has achieved significant cost savings and also seen improvements in nurse satisfaction scores, which increased by 25 percent.

"On all levels, it's a considerable improvement in operation and function," he says. And it helps that the two organizations have formed a tight-knit bond throughout the years. "They see us as a trusted advisor more so than a third-party vendor," Mr. Vargas says of CompleteRx's and UAHS' relationship.

Mr. Andrus says that sentiment is the goal for all of CompleteRx's health system relationships. "We're not one of the old outsourcing companies that would go in and axe people," he says. "We'd much rather work with the folks who are there on the ground, understand what's going on in the hospital and assist them."

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