SSM Health receives shipment from nonprofit aiming to solve ‘drug shortage crisis’

SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Madison is one of a handful of hospitals in the country to begin receiving drug shipments from a nonprofit manufacturing company aiming to address national drug shortages.

Filling a prescription for a hospital patient is more difficult when the drug just isn’t there.

“It’s a big problem when a drug is not available and essential for patient care,” said Mo Kharbat, SSM Health Wisconsin vice president of pharmacy services. “Imagine a child with a certain kind of cancer that has to have this treatment, and when it’s not available, it will create a big, big problem.”

“It kind of becomes a scramble,” said Michelle Schmitt, SSM regional pharmacy business manager. “Behind the scenes we’re doing a lot of work to make sure we secure that product for the patient.”

That’s why it takes a new way of doing things to fill the need. Earlier this month, SSM received its first shipment from Civica Rx, a nonprofit drug manufacturer developed last year by health systems including SSM. The health system is a governing member.

These antibiotics arriving at @ssmhealthwi today are part of an effort by the not-for-profit company @CivicaRx to address the national prescription drug shortage at hospitals. When everyday, essential drugs can be in short supply, health officials say this can be a game-changer.

— Madalyn O’Neill (@news3madalyn) October 24, 2019

“The company’s not in the business of turning a profit on these drugs,” Kharbat said. “No other drug company ever claimed to be out there on a not-for-profit basis with only one mission of making essential drug products affordable and available across the country.”

Civica Rx focuses on manufacturing essential generic drugs that are often in short supply, selling them at cost. The first is vancomycin, an antibiotic, which is used for infections, some that can be life-threatening, according to Kharbat.

He said shortages of necessary drugs can be caused by a lack of a certain active ingredient, a quality issue or a manufacturer’s decision.

“That’s what actually results in the shortage sometimes is drug companies stop making it because it doesn’t make enough money for them, but when it comes to the clinical necessity of the drug, it is very necessary. I do believe Civica will address this in the long run.”

Health providers are often able to locate alternatives, so patients wouldn’t usually notice a difference in care, but the alternatives are often costly and more complicated. Reliable shipments of drugs like vancomycin from Civica Rx fill the void when shortages arise.

“We’re hoping they’ll really make sure we have product on the shelves at all times and we don’t get to the point where it can affect the patient,” Schmitt said.

Kharbat said Civica Rx plans to roll out up to 20 more generic drugs by the end of the year.

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