Part Two: Influential Women in Specialty Pharmacy Help Guide the Industry


The second half of a 2-part series on the influential women shaping the specialty pharmacy industry.

If you haven’t already, we hope you’ll begin reading this 2-part series by viewing part 1, where we profile 5 women who we’ve identified among specialty pharmacy’s most highly-regarded leaders. In the conclusion to this series, you’ll meet another group of women who are applying their unique capabilities and expertise to positively impact their organizations, as well as the industry at large.

Nicole Hebbert, vice president, patient access and engagement at UBC

As vice president of patient access and engagement at UBC, Nicole Hebbert is responsible for providing manufacturers with best-in-class services to prescribers and patients, including patient support and assistance programs, reimbursement hub services, as well as the administration of risk evaluation and mitigation strategies (REMS) programs.

According to her colleagues, Hebbert possesses the ideal mix of tremendous industry expertise with a passion for improving health care. They often hear Hebbert reminding her team that behind every phone call, fax, or email, is a patient in need of care. In her current role, Hebbert is also committed to developing appropriate solutions for products that may treat small or large patient populations. Clients widely recognize her for her knowledge in the areas of patient access programs, compliance and regulations, and reimbursement processes.

Hebbert has more than 20 years of experience in specialty pharmacy operations, and has applied this knowledge to strategically partner with pharmaceutical manufacturers throughout her career. This culminated in her move to UBC, in which she used this expertise to influence the design and delivery of patient support services. She has also been involved in specialty pharmacy engagements with leading insurers, pharmacy benefit managers, and plan sponsors.

Hebbert’s commitment to high-quality services stems, in large part, from her own experience as a patient. As an individual living with lupus, she has a unique perspective on patient care and the challenges associated with managing a chronic, lifelong condition.

She strongly believes that a diagnosis of this kind doesn’t need to be a limiting factor in life, either personally or professionally. Perhaps most importantly, she takes the lessons she learned from her own treatment to help improve care delivery.

For example, Hebbert has drawn from her own experience in managing this condition as an opportunity to teach her team, coworkers, and colleagues about what it’s like to be a patient living with a serious health issue. Those around her also know that Hebbert is particularly dedicated to improving patient access to powerful therapies. She applies her unique expertise to develop the most efficient processes and routes to help patients quickly receive the treatment they need.

Hebbert also gained a strong perspective on the need for patient-centered care in her very first job, working on the front lines of a patient contact center at Priority Healthcare Specialty Pharmacy. Hebbert’s skills and ambition accelerated her career rapidly, moving from supervisory positions all the way to a vice president role in just over a decade. She also led her teams through multiple acquisitions, ensuring seamless integration during and after every transaction to help the organization maintain its overarching focus on patient care despite these transitions.

Hebbert has continued this philosophy throughout her career, inspiring her employees by example, and motivating them through her own hard work and perseverance. She credits her own mentors for helping her learn and grow in her career and in turn, she has taken the time to give back to her own coworkers and employees. She also regularly extends support to other individuals living with serious autoimmune issues, through her community work through the Lupus Foundation of America and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

When asked what she enjoys most about working in the specialty pharmacy industry, Hebbert cites the ability to make an impact on people’s lives, knowing that even the simplest task she performs may positively affect a chronically ill patient down the line. She is also excited by the new, dynamic technologies that are improving access to treatment by removing burdens on prescribers, payers, and patients.

Hebbert is particularly passionate about exploring ways to create more connected care by standardizing information sharing across electronic medical records and other health care and pharmacy databases. All of these concepts are driving Hebbert to explore new possibilities within her own organization in order to stay on the cutting-edge of new technologies that have the potential to positively impact patient care.

When thinking about her own success, Hebbert credits her willingness to be inquisitive, seeking new information and wisdom from other leaders. She believes that by looking outside of ourselves, we can all play a role in furthering the industry—for example, by addressing the fragmentation of care delivery.

Hebbert regularly advises other young leaders to value their emotional intelligence, as patient care is about so much more than just developing the most efficient, logical solutions to any problem. And in fact, it’s this ability to mix compassion, expertise, and wisdom, which has been the formula for Hebbert’s own success.

Abby Kaplan, general counsel; chief compliance officer; executive vice president of administration for Avella Specialty Pharmacy

Abby Kaplan married into a family filled with doctors and other care practitioners. As such, she is frequently surrounded by individuals in this industry, both in her personal or professional life. Yet for her own career, Kaplan decided to take a slightly different path while still maintaining a connection to health care.

Instead of becoming a pharmacist or doctor, she graduated with a law degree and began working in litigation with a firm that frequently partnered with pharmaceutical manufacturers. Her early exposure to that sector gave Kaplan a unique appreciation of the challenges and opportunities that accompany partnering with these organizations. Kaplan enjoyed working within this environment and, as a result, she knew her career was on the right trajectory.

A move to Arizona in 2011 was the impetus for Kaplan’s transition to in-house corporate roles, which begin with a leading dermatology product manufacturer headquartered in Scottsdale. The organization created a new role for Kaplan focused solely on litigation support, in which she represented the company in any potential government investigations and complex litigations.

In 2015, she learned about Avella Specialty Pharmacy, another Arizona-based company. At Avella, Kaplan would have the chance to contribute to an even more patient-centered organization, as the specialty pharmacy is known for its patient engagement approach and the knowledge of its clinical team. Despite not having specific specialty pharmacy experience, Kaplan had the right mix of skills and legal expertise needed to show Rebecca Shanahan, Avella’s CEO, that she was the right fit for the company’s general counsel role.

In her current role, Kaplan is responsible for ensuring that Avella's specialty pharmacy and compounding operations are conducted in compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements while also serving as a trusted advisor to Avella's senior management team and the board of directors. She is able to succinctly and clearly communicate the implications of new laws and regulations relating to the changing healthcare landscape of specialty pharmacy and outsourcing, and makes strategic recommendations on how Avella can continue its incredible growth in this changing environment.

Kaplan also shares her CEO’s passion for giving back to the industry and has done so in a variety of ways. In 2016, she designed and developed a new 1-day conference in cooperation with Shanahan. The annual Specialty Pharmacy Law Conference was rolled out in cooperation with the National Association of Specialty Pharmacy.

It continues to this day and is intended for general counsel and in-house counsel for national and regional specialty pharmacies, practicing attorneys in health care law, compliance officers, and executives concerned with the legal and regulatory requirements, as well as the extraordinary complexities of operating a specialty pharmacy. The event draws hundreds of legal professionals every year and attendees can receive Continuing Legal Education credits for participation. Kaplan also is active in charitable work throughout her community, including fundraising and event planning benefitting rare cancer research, an area of particular interest for her.

When asked about her advice to others just starting out in this sector, Kaplan encourages these individuals to constantly stay up-to-date on the industry environment, as it is changing rapidly. In fact, that is one of the things she loves best about working in specialty pharmacy, along with being part of an organization positively impacting patient safety and quality of care. She also likes to give back to these up-and-coming professionals as much as she can, which is Kaplan’s way of passing on the type of mentorship she’s received from incredible female leaders throughout her career.

N. Lois Adams, president & CEO, HHCS Health Group of Companies, LLC

Thanks to more than 55 incredible years as a pharmacist and entrepreneur, N. Lois Adams has witnessed decades of growth and change within the modern pharmaceutical and pharmacy industries. However, she was far more than just a spectator in the evolution of care delivery and pharmaceutical innovations.

Adams played an active role in shaping organizations across the continuum of care—founding leading independent pharmacies as well as infusion, specialty pharmacy, and respiratory therapy organizations. Most notably, she’s imparted the wisdom and experience she has gained along the way with so many others in this sector as a mentor, employer, friend, and colleague.

Adams made the decision to pursue a career in the health care industry at a very young age for one simple reason—she wanted to help others. Adams had considered becoming a missionary, but instead chose to pursue pharmacy, which allowed her to combine a career with a family.

Even while completing her coursework and earning accreditations focused on pharmaceutical management, Adams balanced her busy schedule as a member of the board of directors for many of the major charities and governor-appointed positions to help the elderly. Upon entering the industry, Adams quickly realized that there were many opportunities to improve the way that care was delivered, specifically the way in which medications were being prescribed and managed for patients with serious illnesses.

In the 1960s, Adams opened the doors of her first independent pharmacy. Just a few years later, she was leading and running the largest respiratory business in the southeastern United States. Adams continued on as an entrepreneur and innovator over the following decades, expanding her incredible skillset while also touching the lives of patients across the nation.

This included work in the pharmacies of renowned hospitals and medical centers, as well as serving as CEO and president of a leading home health company. In her “free time,” Adams even managed to return to school and get her MBA, all while raising three children as a single mother. This same school—the UCF College of Business—later inducted Adams into its Hall of Fame and awarded her the 50-year Award for Creativity. These opportunities and strategic avenues led her to her current role as CEO of HHCS Health Group. In this capacity, Adams oversees all of the strategy, marketing, and operations of the business.

HHCS is a group of companies that includes 2 leading independent specialty pharmacies, 1 of which was the nation's first pharmacy to focus solely on serving patients with cystic fibrosis. Adams’ decision to focus on cystic fibrosis was a very personal one.

Upon opening an infusion pharmacy with Abbott Laboratories while under the HHCS umbrella, Adams encountered a woman with a grandchild who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at birth. The child was prescribed a medication for the condition but her insurance company refused to pay for it. Adams—never one to give up on a worthwhile fight—called the manufacturer asking that they provide better pricing but the company refused.

Adams instead went to her lab, formulated a substitute, and gave it to the patient at no cost. She also provided it to Duke University, Emory University, and many of the cystic fibrosis centers in Florida, all at no cost. This was the start of the Cystic Fibrosis Pharmacy, Inc. It’s moments like these, Adams says, that make her career more than just a list of accreditations and accomplishment. Adams’ work has truly opened doors and saved lived for the people she touches every day.

This is just an example of the myriad ways in which Adams has imparted the knowledge, skills, talent, and expertise that she's gained along this journey to give back to the communities and people she serves. Among the most notable is her founding of the non-profit Center for Memory Disorders, which was founded in honor of her mother who died from Alzheimer’s disease.

This entity employed neurologists, nurses, social workers, and pharmacists to provide a holistic approach to the patient’s treatment. Adams has also consistently advocated for veterans throughout her career. In particular, she was concerned about the way in which our nation’s veterans were treated after the Gulf War—which later drove her to found the Center for Environmental and Industrial Medicine, and numerous other efforts to fight for better access to appropriate care for these individuals.

Adams has frequently been recognized by third parties for her many achievements and charitable efforts. These include being named National Pharmacist of the Year by Amerisource Bergen’s Good Neighbor Pharmacies of America and receiving the Heroes of Hope Lifetime Achievement Award in Health Care from the Orlando Business Journal.

Adams was also named among the Princeton Premier Professional Business Leaders and received the Bowl of Hygeia Award from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. Finally, she earned the Fifth Annual Human Health Care Pharmacy Recognition Award from US Pharmacist and Eisai Pharmaceuticals, the Women of Magic Award in Central Florida, and the Innovative Pharmacy Practice Award from Florida Pharmacy Association.

Peyton Howell, president and executive vice president, Health Systems & Specialty Care Solutions at AmerisourceBergen

Peyton Howell has always had a strong desire to be part of the evolution of health care, in particular, by supporting patient access to care. Her educational background in health administration helped make this possible, as she began working in hospitals during both undergraduate and graduate school.

Howell’s timing in entering this arena was ideal, as she had an opportunity to lead projects related to the challenges of inadequate reimbursement and access to new, emerging treatments. She then leveraged this academic and on-the-job knowledge into an opportunity to consult with health care providers in order to address their reimbursement challenges.

In fact, Howell’s own journey closely aligned with the growth of specialty pharmacy, specifically in the early 1990s when the first generation of these products emerged. It was at this time that Howell first decided to engage manufacturers in the process of solving the reimbursement and patient access challenges she saw first-hand from her provider partners. To accomplish this vision, Howell became one of the founders of Lash Group, a pharmaceutical consulting and patient services company.

The early days at Lash Group literally started at Howell’s kitchen table, with a small group of people who shared her passion for driving change in this industry. These individuals were at the forefront of building what are now traditional patient support and reimbursement services.

As part of these consulting services, her team helped manufacturers navigate long-term solutions to access challenges instead of providing temporary fixes. Throughout these efforts, Howell was actively working with stakeholders across the continuum of care to ensure patients received access to essential specialty therapies. Thanks to these strategic offerings and the expertise of its consulting team, the firm grew dramatically and was acquired by AmerisourceBergen in 1998.

As she began work with AmerisourceBergen, Howell was given the opportunity to not only expand Lash Group, but also to complete other acquisitions that expanded her original specialty offerings. She helped bring core businesses such as Xcenda, US Bioservices, ION Solutions, and Innomar Strategies in Canada into the fold, giving AmerisourceBergen the resources it needed to improve patient outcomes.

In her current role at AmerisourceBergen, Howell is once again overseeing the organization’s key specialty-focused businesses, using her unique experience and expertise to support the evolution of health care and help create healthier futures for patients.

In fact, when asked what she enjoys most about working in the specialty pharmacy industry, Howell cites her ability to build robust, comprehensive support for patients as they access these therapies. To do so, Howell applies her unique ability to look at specialty pharmacy from 2 unique directions—from health care providers themselves and as a channel for patient access on the manufacturer side. She’s also interested in the exploration of new reimbursement approaches, such as integrated care models, and has worked closely with health systems and oncology practices interested in pursuing these new avenues for care delivery.

Howell is especially passionate about supporting other women in the workplace and helping them reach their full potential. In fact, she leads AmerisourceBergen’s Women’s Impact Network, a forum with a mission to foster an inclusive environment that inspires women to grow and develop both personally and professionally. She’s been involved with similar efforts for the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, in an effort to support diversity in the healthcare pharmaceutical services industry.

Howell’s advice to her fellow and future female leaders is to embrace what makes you unique and different, and then use these characteristics to drive results. She believes that supporting other women as they strive to do this is a win-win for both mentor and mentee.

According to Howell, “One example where this comes into play is that I don’t golf and so I miss a lot of the bonding opportunities that my male counterparts have during these outings. It’s hard to reach your full potential if you feel different or alone. I have found that mentorships are great ways to build relationships and instill confidence to help push you through to the next level.”

We hope you’ve enjoyed this series highlighting the achievements, vision and thought leadership from some of the industry’s most accomplished executives. While their backgrounds are all unique, there were many common threads shared among all of these women. These include a passion for making a difference, a willingness to give back to the community and a strong belief in improving patient access to care. Applying these philosophies to your own professional life may well help you accomplish similar milestones, so you can lead the charge for a new generation of innovators, entrepreneurs and advocates.

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