Sherri Watson Impacts Pharmaceutical Spends

When Sherri Watson talks about the Midwestern values that drive her work as director of benefits, it should be noted that her employer began its fundraising efforts back in the late 1950s with a two-day chili event that raised $1,000.05. That’s Midwestern ingenuity, care, and community in a nutshell.

Today, North Kansas City Hospital and Meritas Health is comprised of 451 beds on a 69-acre campus and more than thirty-five clinic locations throughout the Northland. Watson, a veteran of the benefits space, found herself drawn to healthcare after driving benefits innovation in transportation infrastructure and the engineering industry.

“The healthcare industry is a very challenging space to operate in, but it’s my career,” Watson says. “There is so much legislation and challenges to helping people, and that’s the reason why I chose to work in healthcare, ultimately. You can impact someone’s life for the better and help them get to where they need to be.”

Watson came to the system in 2022 and over the past two years, she’s had the opportunity to create a wider decision-making team and push the boundaries of what is possible in benefits. The director says one of the best moves her organization has made since she came aboard has been working with the clinical pharmacy team to develop an employee program to minimize out-of-pocket expenses.

“Our clinical pharmacy team kept politely knocking on our door and offering up some very unique approaches,” Watson explains. “The pharmaceutical world is what’s driving everyone’s claims in healthcare, and they had an incredible idea. Manufacturers are given rebates, and someone is taking those rebates. Why not us?”

Watson’s organization elected to flip the tables and create an internal pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) who would negotiate prices with drug manufacturers and pharmacies and process drug claims. They partnered with prescription enterprise system RXSense to support the team, and Watson says they have already been responsible for savings in the millions.

“That team is helping steer our in-house pharmacy,” Watson says. “We want everything coming through that organization. We white bag (the shipping of patient medications directly to the site of care) a lot of our infusion drugs for chemotherapy in the Kansas City area, and we’re really seeing positive results on all sides.”

Watson says a new EAP implementation has offered a wide array of innovative partnerships, including providing individual counseling for serious life events like grief counseling and more maintenance-focused issues like departmental burnout. The organization cultivated strong relationships with counselors during the COVID pandemic and have welcomed those professionals back to help employees deal with other unforeseen life circumstances.

Those life circumstances continue to provide new and difficult challenges. Watson remembers a nurse who came to her organization explaining that her rent was set to skyrocket to an additional $700 a month.

“Nobody is equipped to deal with that kind of news,” Watson says. “It’s so important for us to think about those moments our people are going through and make sure no one is feeling isolated or unsupported.” The hospital is able to assist the employee through their Employee Emergency Assistance Fund, which is payroll deductions from fellow employees used for emergent expenses for eligible employees.

Another initiative underway is the focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. With additional training, we help caregivers navigate treating patients whose life and backgrounds might be very different from their own.

“You also need that kind of consideration when it comes to your coworkers,” Watson explains. “There are people you see and possibly work side-by-side with every day. From housekeeping to surgical tech, we want to facilitate collaboration and communication, whether that’s with training, education, or interpretative services. That’s helping drive the kind of inclusive environment we want to create.”

Challenges seem more of an opportunity for Watson than a problem. She filled a role that had been the same thirty years. That loss of institutional knowledge and understanding of the hospital ecosystem could have posed a giant chasm for the HR organization, but Watson’s approach provides solid advice for even the greenest of HR professionals.

“You can’t be afraid to ask questions and reach out beyond your own department. You need to align yourself with people and teams who have a shared goal and understand the bigger picture,” Watson says. “It is not lost on me that HR is an overhead department. We’re not doing complex neurosurgical procedures or treating patients, but a strong HR function is the backbone of any successful healthcare organization.”

Watson is always reading, always learning something new, and hopes that those around her chase the same kind of curiosity that makes her life interesting. The director says she knows people in positions like hers are faced with a difficult moment in healthcare: post-COVID rebuilding and evolution, Medicare reimbursements providing endless challenges, and the constant stream of new legislation at the local, state, and federal levels.

But Watson loves what she does because it’s difficult, not in spite of it.

Aetna is honored to work with health care leaders from North Kansas City Hospital. Aetna, a CVS Health business, not only offers specialized solutions for healthcare employers but serves an estimated 34 million people—offering a broad range of traditional, voluntary, and consumer-directed health insurance products and related services. Aetna covers employer groups in all industries.

The post Sherri Watson Impacts Pharmaceutical Spends appeared first on American Healthcare Leader.

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