Honoring Caregivers in Specialty Pharmacy

New initiative announced at Asembia (formerly Armada) Specialty Pharmacy Summit honors the work of caregivers who help patients battle debilitating diseases.

The commonly held axiom in specialty pharmacy is that the patient is at the center of every action. Beneath the surface of this patient-centric approach, beyond the work of physicians and pharmacists, are the day-to-day heroes who frequently go unrecognized. They are the ones who boost these patients during their lowest moments, calm their fears, and dry the tears that cascade down their cheek as they confront their own mortality.

They are the caregivers of these patients, be it family members, friends, or loved ones.

In recognition of these individuals, a new initiative announced today at the annual Asembia (formerly Armada) Specialty Pharmacy Summit will honor these everyday heroes who help patients overcome debilitating diseases.

“Each day, caregivers across the country answer this call and lift the lives of their loved ones who need additional support,” said Specialty Pharmacy Times board member Mike Agostino, vice president of Pharmacy Innovation and Business Development at Hy-Vee, Inc, during a session on patient support at the summit. “Caregivers in every corner of our country uphold this sacred promise with incredible dedication to their loved ones, but often go unacknowledged.”

Agostino declared this caregiver award will be awarded annually during the Asembia summit. The impetus for the award began as Agostino began to consider different ways to focus on the patient perspective to determine where specialty pharmacy is performing well and what needs to be improved upon.

During the May 3 session on “The Practice of Specialty Pharmacy and the Focus of Elevating Critical Patient Care and Support,” panelist Tawny Roeder, a case manager for the blood and marrow transplant program at Nebraska Medicine, recounted her own battle with lymphoma as a 23-year-old, which included an autologous stem cell transplant and 6 cycles of an exhaustive chemotherapy regimen.

“The back pain I had for months and didn’t go away all of a sudden became a very intense reality. I was sick,” Roeder said. “I felt as if my worry free young adult life was all of a sudden in a tailspin.”

Roeder’s perspective as a patient has since allowed her a unique level of empathy for the difficulties millions face on a daily basis with chronic disease.

“When you hear the word cancer, the biggest thing that comes to your mind was am I going to die,” she recalled. “Now I’m able to care for lymphoma patients undergoing stem cell transplants, as well. What was the worst event in my life transformed into the most rewarding career I could imagine.”

The struggle Roeder overcame as a young adult came full circle during the session, as Agostino announced her mother Debra Hendriks as the first recipient of the annual caregiver award.

“My mom was right by my side for every checkup, down to the lab draws, my chemotherapy sessions, and finally my month long stay for my stem cell transplant. She was my caregiver through the entire thing,” Roeder said. “She guided me with my medication administration, transporting me to my appointments, holding my hand through my treatments and the night we shaved off all my hair.”

Agostino said his vision for the caregiver award long-term is to provide a voice to the voiceless with a wide array of patient experiences. The importance of this was driven home during Roeder’s emotional story.

After Agostino announced the award, the session ended with Roeder sharing a long embrace with her mother, who was seated front row near her daughter’s side, as she had been during the darkest moments of her life.

“Patients hear so much, they can’t quite grasp it all. You need an extra set of ears to hear things,” Roeder said. “Those with caregivers are more compliant. Without them, you lack the support in making day-to-day health care decisions, said as an appreciative daughter, and now, a compassionate nurse.”