When parents send their kids to summer camp, when tourists get sick traveling abroad, or when physician's offices are preparing for the flu season, they'll likely need vaccinations, antibiotics, or other pharmaceuticals.
Physicians' offices, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and schools rely on pharmaceutical companies to produce these items. Without a strong delivery network, however, the preventative and life-saving treatments might not make it to their destinations intact. That's because many healthcare deliveries require special care.
Take vaccines, for example. If a shipment of the temperature-sensitive product gets too hot or too cold in transit--even by just a few degrees--the vaccines become less effective or possibly unusable. This can affect back-to-school vaccination efforts, flu prevention drives, or humanitarian relief missions.
UPS does much more than deliver packages in big, brown trucks. We specialize in logistics. In the case of healthcare, that includes temperature-controlled storage facilities, an established transportation network that can move products quickly and safely, and regulatory compliance. We do this with a specially trained workforce that understands It's a Patient, Not a Package®.
"I have three children," says Ryan Mascio, an operations supervisor at UPS's Suwanee, Ga. healthcare facility. "I take them to get their vaccinations and it drives it home when you watch the nurse bringing the products. You know where they came from, who picked them, who packed them."
Strategically Located Facilities
Our Suwanee healthcare facility is one of the leading locations for the distribution of temperature-sensitive vaccines, as well as some antibiotics and pharmaceuticals. Its location adjacent to a major interstate in the Atlanta metro area allows UPS to ship using ground transportation for most shipments instead of UPS Next Day Air®, keeping costs down for customers.
"From this facility, we can hit 60 percent of the eastern and Midwest states within a two-day period," Mascio says.
If an order requires overnight delivery, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is just down the interstate.
A second distribution center specializing in temperature-sensitive deliveries is in Reno, Nev. Its location allows UPS to ship to the western half of the United States within a two-day period.
"If Reno goes down, we can process the redirected orders," Mascio says.
The Suwanee healthcare distribution facility is equipped with: two backup generators; cold storage capabilities for 2-8°C; frozen storage of -30 and -20°C; and 24-hour security and temperature-monitoring systems. It also houses a Drug Enforcement Agency-compliant cage for controlled substances.
The facility is staffed with on-site quality assurance and regulatory compliance experts and employees regularly update their skills to stay on top of new regulations.
"Our employees go through rigorous training and retraining," Mascio says. "Every two months, they're retrained on their work instructions. There's no wiggle room."
Peak Performance Capabilities
The healthcare peak season spans May to mid-September. The rush is primarily for vaccines to cover back-to-school immunization requirements and flu season preparations. The Suwanee healthcare facility doubles its workforce to meet demands--a spike from 4,000 orders a day during off-peak times to 10,000 orders a day during peak season.
Hundreds of insulated shipping containers are fitted with the proper arrangement of temperature-controlling cooling bricks. The containers roll down tracks to a refrigerated area, where employees fulfill orders.
A light-directed order fulfillment system, also known as pick to light, is key to speed, accuracy, and efficiency. In the facility's pick to light setup, an employee scans a barcode that triggers illumination in nearby refrigerators. Lights above the correct products turn on and also specify a quantity. The picker then selects the items, turning off each light as they're picked. When all lights are off, the order is complete.
"It limits the picker from making errors," says Dennis Shelton, also an operations supervisor at the Suwanee healthcare facility. "The light system tells you exactly what to pick, so you're not going off a paper order where you might misread the numbers. This allows healthcare manufacturers to focus on developing their products while we take care of the logistics."