Creating Successful Public Health Partnerships in the Age of COVID-19

January 10, 2022

The coronavirus pandemic fostered and underscored the benefits of public-private partnerships as healthcare supply chain companies used their expertise and strengths to support the government’s response to an ongoing health crisis. The Milken Institute’s “2021 Partnering for Patients Forum” explored this topic during a panel discussion entitled, “Reimagining Public Health Partnerships: Lessons Learned from the Pandemic.

The discussion featured Heather Zenk, President of Distribution Services and Supply Chain Operations at HDA member company AmerisourceBergen; Shamiram Feinglass, Chief Medical Officer at Danaher; Judy Monroe, the current President and CEO of the CDC Foundation; and Emily Yu, the Executive Director of The BUILD Health Challenge. The discussion was moderated by Glenna Crooks, President and CEO of Strategic Health Policy International Inc.

Zenk shared how the healthcare distribution industry, and AmerisourceBergen specifically, have engaged during the pandemic, lessons learned throughout these past 18+ months and how the supply chain will evolve as a result. Below are some key takeaways from her remarks.


COVID-19 Reinforced the Need for Stronger Collaboration

AmerisourceBergen has worked with the federal government on the distribution of COVID-19 treatments and as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination. In her remarks, Zenk highlighted AmerisourceBergen’s Good Neighbor Pharmacy, which works with federal pharmacy programs to help independent pharmacies access COVID-19 vaccines, as well as their role as a network administrator for the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. By serving as the key connection between federal pharmacy programs and independent pharmacies, AmerisourceBergen has reinforced the ongoing need for stronger collaboration between the public and private sectors.

“At AmerisourceBergen, we’ve been very proud of our partnership in distributing therapies, the monoclonal antibodies and working with state and public health jurisdictions,” explained Zenk. “It’s been wonderful to see rural areas … have access to the vaccine program.” Further, she shared that individuals in under-resourced areas have received greater access to vaccine programs as a result of these partnerships.


Identifying Shared Goals Across Public-Private Partnerships is Key to Pandemic Responses and Beyond

Zenk further elaborated on how public and private partners often have shared goals and reiterated that it is important for these organizations to be as transparent as possible with each other. She posed the question: “[Not just] in a time of need, but how do we continue to merge and apply the supply chains even more effectively, so we don’t have a scarcity of resources that increases cost or decreases capability?”


Adapting to COVID-19 Has Impacted Supply Chain Operations

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted that there may be additional opportunities to refine global supply chain processes when assessing how the sector responded to the unexpected demands of delivering vaccines, therapeutics and PPE. Zenk emphasized that the industry has been changed by the pressure inflicted on the global supply chain in aiding response efforts.

“There is no going back to the way we used to communicate, engage or work as a supply chain,” she explained. “We’ve changed the way that we think about the supply chain, allocation of product and product availability. There is no going back [to the way things were before].”


Paving the Way for the Future: What Will Progress Look Like One Year From Now?

Zenk expressed her desire for more frequent and robust conversations about the strength of public-private partnerships. Regardless of what future public health crises may emerge, she remains hopeful for how we may use the lessons from COVID-19 response efforts to overcome new challenges in the future.

“I’m optimistic, because we’ve done this before, we’ve seen it happen, and I’ve just seen the communication work and the vulnerability and empathy come forward and be a success.”

The full event recording is available here. For additional HDA materials and pandemic response resources, visit our website.