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Celebrating the (s)heroes among us

The first in a series about women who are advancing health care

By Sarah Wills, Executive Vice President, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer

As a mom, I think a lot about how to raise my twin sons, now 9 years old, so that they grow up with an appreciation that gender does not determine talent, intellect, drive or capability. I try to expose my boys to non-stereotypical characters – in history, in fiction and in real life - because I believe it will help them to think differently about both women and men.

I recently gave my boys a copy of Women Who Dared: 52 Stories of Fearless Daredevils, Adventurers and Rebels, by Linda Skeers (shown at left). The book tells the stories of extraordinary women, like Valentina Tereshkova, the first and youngest woman in space; Sylvia Earle, the first female chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and Susan La Flesch Picotte, the first American Indian to earn a medical degree. The boys and I read and talk about these stories, and the accomplishments of these leaders, who happen to be women.

We also talk about the remarkable women with whom I’ve had the privilege of working throughout my career, including those I work with today at Cardinal Health. These are the engineers and pharmacists, innovators and strategists, researchers, operational leaders, executives and advocates, nurses and doctors who are changing the way health care works around the world.

I tell my sons about some of my closest colleagues on Cardinal Health’s executive leadership team: Michele Holcomb, our Chief Strategy and Business Development Officer, Jessica Mayer, Chief Legal and Compliance Officer, and Ola Snow, our Chief Human Resources Officer. I explain that these women lead with drive, courage and grit.

There are so many women throughout our company who are helping our customers deliver better health care and improve patient outcomes in countless ways. In honor of Women’s History Month, I am pleased to shine a light on just a few of them here. Each of these women is exactly the kind of strong, smart and adventurous leader that I am proud to hold up as an example for my sons.

Increasing medication safety for patients
Erika Horstmann, PharmD, Pharmaceutical Operations, OutcomesMTM Patient Engagement Team, Madison, Wisconsin

“Pharmacists have the power to make a remarkable impact on their patients’ health,” said Erika Horstmann, a pharmacist whose expertise is in medication therapy management (MTM). “A significant role they can play is to help ensure patients take their medications correctly and avoid adverse drug reactions or gaps in medication therapy. Carefully reviewing a patient’s medications can dramatically improve health outcomes and quality of life, and often can reduce costs, as well.”

Nearly seven years ago, Horstmann, then a practicing community pharmacist, joined Cardinal Health to help stand up a contact center for Cardinal Health’s OutcomesMTM. “The company wanted to build an outreach team to connect with the patients who could most benefit from medication reviews – particularly those who have multiple prescriptions,” she said. “I fully believed in the power of MTM and, with some really smart colleagues, developed a way to provide patients with this valuable care.”

Today, from her home office in Wisconsin, Horstmann leads a nationwide team of more than 80 pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and patient engagement specialists. “Health plans contract with Outcomes to provide MTM services to their eligible patient populations,” she explained. “We reach out to patients, review their medications over the phone, and then work with the patients’ prescribers whenever we see opportunities for improvement. We have something many providers often don’t have, and that is the luxury of time to carefully review all of a patient’s medications holistically, to ensure that everything is working together as it should.”

Though Horstmann’s team is spread across the country, they stay in close contact all day, every day, she said. “We consult with each other, ask questions, share experiences. Every day, at least one person on the team catches and corrects a medication issue for a patient. Recently, for example, one of our pharmacists discovered that a patient was prescribed a medication to treat his Crohn’s disease but had been dispensed a medication that wasn’t the best treatment for Crohn’s. The pharmacist promptly contacted the patient’s prescriber and community pharmacist, who helped the patient get the correct medication right away.

“This is just one example ­­of the kinds of things our team uncovers,” Horstmann said. “It’s incredibly meaningful work. We’ve improved quality of life for so many, and have even saved lives. With the important MTM service, our pharmacists improve the lives of patients every day.”

Ensuring a strong and flexible supply chain
Katie Blohm, Transportation Director, Logistics Center of Excellence, Dublin, Ohio

After more than a decade spent working in global supply chain management in the retail sector, Katie Blohm joined Cardinal Health in 2019 to lead a team that designs and deploys new logistics capabilities across the enterprise.

Her work is complex, because the supply chain is so complex ­– a network that connects suppliers and manufacturers to wholesalers and pharmacists and health care facilities and, ultimately, to patients.

“Moving to health care from retail was a big shift for me, and a meaningful one,” Blohm said. “The health care supply chain is more complicated than others because there are so many regulatory issues. And because health care touches everyone in some way, every person on my team can see and feel the impact of our work on our lives or those of our friends and families, every day.”

Blohm’s work became much more challenging a few months after she joined the company. “I’d been on board only a few months when the COVID-19 pandemic began,” she said. “Suddenly, all of the issues that supply chain professionals had been dealing with for years, such as capacity limitations, became much more profound in light of entirely unprecedented disruptions.”

Before and during the pandemic, though, the core of the work remains the same, Blohm said. “Everything starts with the customer and their patients. What are their pain points? What can we do to help? How can we help streamline our customers’ work, free up their resources, and give them back more time to care for their patients? These are the questions that drive all of us.”

One of her first projects at Cardinal Health was establishing a partnership with FourKites, which is building end-to-end visibility in the supply chain. “This partnership gives us digital solutions that remove siloes in the supply chain,” she explained. “That means that all parts of the supply chain are working together, providing our customers with real-time information about where their products are, and when they can expect delivery.”

More recently, Blohm has been working on a solution that could satisfy customers’ desire to have products delivered at the start of the workday. “More and more, health care facilities want their products by 8:00 each morning. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough drivers to make that happen. However, what if we could deliver products to smart lockers at customers’ facilities? These tech-enabled lockers could tell us when a trucker delivered the product and when the customer accessed it.  That would mean our drivers would have a wider window for delivery – any time overnight. Customers wouldn’t have to take time away from their patients to meet the delivery. It could be a win for everyone.” Blohm and her team are currently developing a pilot project to test the concept, she said.

Though innovations that improve supply chain visibility and allow tech-enabled deliveries are important and interesting, Blohm said, “what’s really exciting to me is everything we’re doing to strengthen our supply chain’s foundation. That means improving everything that happens behind the scenes: Optimizing and tendering loads, auditing freight and ensuring timely payments, increasing efficiency all along the supply chain. The better we are at these fundamentals, the more efficient and customer centric we’ll be. That means we can be more flexible and dynamic and innovate new solutions. Ultimately, it means we’ll be the best at delivering the products and solutions that improve people’s lives every day.”

Elevating standards of care in hospital operating rooms
Vikki Harraden, RN, MSN, MHA, Presource Program Optimization Manager, Acute Medical, Fairfax, Virginia

In hospital operating rooms (ORs), product variations in personal protective equipment (PPE) and surgical packs can lead to staff inefficiencies.  Standardization, on the other hand, can reduce health care costs, increase safety and even give care providers more time to focus on their patients.

Clinical work in the OR is challenging, complex and often constrained by time and resources, explained Vikki Harraden, a registered nurse who helps train Cardinal Health customers’ OR staffs on standardized procedures. “There are so many care providers in and out of the OR, and everyone moves so quickly. It can feel a little chaotic,” she said. “As simple as it sounds, having ready access to standardized, high-quality surgical packs – with everything the OR team uses for a given operation, including drapes, gowns, gloves, sutures, surgical swabs, blades and wound dressings – can have a big impact. The more consistency we can provide, the more we can help ORs run smoothly.”    

Harraden, who’s been with Cardinal Health since 2018, leverages nearly 30 years of experience as an OR nurse. “Though I no longer touch patients directly every day, my earlier career gives me credibility when I’m working with hospital staff,” she said. “They know that I understand how hectic an OR can be and how many pressures there are. When I talk about the importance, in very time-sensitive situations, of having access to the appropriate PPE, they know I speak from experience.”

At Cardinal Health, Harraden spends about half her time educating OR nurses, supply chain staff and/or C-suite executives about the impact of standardized surgical packs and procedures. With the rest of her time, she helps support the sales teams who call on hospital customers. “Operating rooms are pretty complicated places,” she said. “I can help non-clinical folks to navigate them, and help ensure that they have meaningful conversations with the right people.”

Harraden continues to maintain her OR nursing credentials and her affiliations with professional organizations like the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN). “After 30 years, my nursing credentials and contacts are important to me,” she said. “But they’re also very important to our customers, who quickly recognize that I’ve spent a great deal of time in their shoes. They understand that I’m there simply to help make it easier for them to do their jobs well.”

As Executive Vice President, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Cardinal Health, Sarah Wills leads all aspects of communications, enterprise marketing and brand, and government relations with a focus on building Cardinal Health’s reputation and brand externally and enhancing employee engagement globally. Prior to Cardinal Health, Wills was senior vice president of corporate affairs and development at Tempus, where she oversaw government affairs and policy, strategic communications, and employee engagement. Before Tempus, Wills was with General Electric, serving in key global leadership roles, including GE Healthcare’s chief communications officer, where she led external affairs and media relations, employee engagement, and executive communications at GE’s $19B healthcare franchise. While at GE, Wills was also executive director, global strategy, for GE Corporate, as well as executive counsel in the chairman’s office, serving as the operational leader for Jeff Immelt in his capacity as chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council for Jobs and Competitiveness. Wills is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and Illinois Wesleyan University.

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Cardinal Health is a distributor of pharmaceuticals, a global manufacturer and distributor of medical and laboratory products, and a provider of performance and data solutions for healthcare facilities. Subscribe to our News Alerts to get all of our latest news.