Amgen’s Louisville Distribution Center (LDC) in Kentucky is a relatively small facility, with about 75 total staff before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a third of them to work from home. Those who remained on-site faced a monumental task: Navigate a host of new safety protocols, build new backup teams and supply reserves from the ground up, all while keeping the entire operation running at full capacity to ensure millions of patients continue to get life-saving medicines.
“We are the single distribution site for all Amgen commercial products in the U.S. We’re also a global packaging site,” says Adam Bibelhauser, Amgen’s site director at LDC. “This small corner of Amgen simply cannot shut down, or slow down, because it would directly affect the supply of medicines to patients.”
Their role as a crucial link in the supply chain for patients meant that LDC was one of the first facilities in the region to implement a COVID-19 response plan. “We went to ‘orange alert’ weeks before there were any confirmed cases in our community,” Bibelhauser says. “As a result, we have maintained 100% of distribution and manufacturing capability, while also undergoing a massive construction project at our site.”
Bibelhauser was among those who transitioned to working from home, so he credits the site’s rapid and successful efforts to his colleagues like Emily Buchanan, senior associate in Environmental Health & Safety, and Deanna Kingston, senior manager for Quality, who have worked on-site throughout the pandemic. “The on-site staff has truly enabled the achievement of our mission through this crisis.”
EH&S Leads the Response
From her position in EH&S, Buchanan led the COVID-19 response for the entire facility. “Not only has she kept staff healthy from COVID-19,” Bibelhauser says, “but she has also overseen more than 280 injury-free days at the facility.”
Along with safety measures like enhanced cleaning protocols, social distancing, mandatory mask wearing and thermal screening, Buchanan says they had to completely rethink how staff moved and operated on-site. That meant splitting teams into self-contained pods, with each pod working as its own small group, without crossing paths or having close contact with others at the facility.
“We had to completely change our process flow to give each pod their own break rooms, bathrooms, even separate entrances into the facility, and we set up plexiglass barriers in places where people couldn’t work and social distance at the same time," Buchanan says. “We’re a tight knit family, so social distancing was the hardest adjustment to make, but our staff adapted to a new way of working without batting an eye."
Backup Teams and Contingency Plans
Joel Torres Galarza, senior manager of Operations at Amgen LDC, says supporting staff has been a key priority, not just on-site, but also by providing education and resources to protect the health of their families at home so they could feel safe and comfortable coming to work every day. “I’m proud of the consistency and commitment everyone has shown during this challenging time,” he says. "Regardless of their level of title, we all came together as a single unit where everyone’s voices were heard.”
The teams also had to think creatively to ensure key segments of the operation were fortified against any possible disruption, including cross-training backup staff for everything from forklift driving to shipping and receiving. “We also started stockpiling supplies and piloting test shipments directly from the manufacturing facility in Puerto Rico as contingency plans,” Bibelhauser says. "It’s like in Apollo 13: Failure is not an option.”
LDC’s commercial truck operation, which is responsible for the delivery of medicines and supplies, also went to great lengths to avoid any potential disruptions. “We only had a small number of people who were trained on these processes, so we cross-trained an entire backup team from our samples operation," Bibelhauser says. “Then we trained a third backup team, and kept each team separate in their own work pods.”
Giving Back to the Community
Amgen was among the first companies with a presence in Louisville taking steps to slow the spread of COVID-19, and as the pandemic began to impact the community, the Amgen Foundation provided a donation of $100,000 to help address economic hardships locally. “We worked with two members of the city council and made the donation to the One Louisville: COVID-19 Response Fund,” Bibelhauser says. “The funds went to people who were out of work, first responders and other charitable organizations.”
Bibelhauser believes that Amgen’s philosophy of “actively caring” has been a powerful driver of safety and staff satisfaction, both before and during the pandemic. The concept is a call to action for Amgen staff, not only to speak up when they see unsafe behaviors, but also to recognize and reward people for modeling safe behaviors in the workplace.
“I give the LDC team credit for making all of this happen, but I also want to thank our leaders for empowering us to do the right things,” Bibelhauser says. “Amgen’s commitment to safety, as well as going above and beyond with support for staff, has helped us keep operations running at full capacity without impacting our people.”