WHCC21 | Heather Zenk

Heather Zenk, RPh, PharmD
President of Distribution Services & Supply Chain Operations
AmerisourceBergen Corporation


1. What Has You Most Optimistic About the Future of Health Care?

I may be biased since I am a pharmacist by training and I work in a pharmaceutical-centered supply chain, but the advancements and efficiencies in pharmacological care are astounding, and the innovation in pharmaceutical development and research has me the most optimistic about the future of health care. If you take the past year as an example, innovations in pharmaceutical research and development have been essential in the fight to end the COVID-19 pandemic. In just over a year, we have 9 COVID-19 treatments currently authorized for Emergency Use in the U.S. and more than 600 treatments in development or planning stages. Not to mention the various COVID-19 vaccines we now have available. COVID-19 aside, science continues to marvel, and I can’t wait to see what continues to emerge in the areas of immunotherapy, cell and gene therapy, biosimilars and more. Modern pharmacotherapy improves lives, prevents some of the most devastating diseases, and inspires bold research to find better treatments for conditions of all kinds.

2. How Has Your Organization Adapted During COVID Times?

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly tested the resiliency of the health care supply chain. At AmerisourceBergen, we have long recognized that partnerships, data, efficiency, and sheer human spirit are vital components to ensuring supply chain stability and meeting our customers’ needs. The pandemic just emphasized the importance of each as we adapted, in real time, to the changing needs of our manufacturer partners, provider customers and our associates. In the height of COVID, our office-based associates transitioned to remote work so we could help protect our frontline associates working in our distribution centers. We leveraged pre-established business continuity and crisis response plans—that had proven results during natural disasters—to ensure seamless continuation of labor and transportation. This line of action allowed us to manage both COVID and an earthquake near our Salt Lake City distribution center. Immediately, we developed new communications protocols to deepen relationships with manufacturers, non-profits, and governments to enable faster distribution and a more durable supply chain. Ongoing public-private partnerships with the United States federal government, FDA, FEMA, HHS, and state governments have been crucial to meet shifting demands.

3. How Has the Pandemic Changed the Way Health Care Organizations Think About Data and Technology?

The COVID-19 pandemic forced all participants in the health care supply chain to accelerate and expand how we use data to meet patient needs. AmerisourceBergen utilized data to adjust our pharmaceutical product allocation strategy to accommodate areas and health systems in the United States with the highest demand for certain products—such as sedatives, inhalers, and antivirals used for COVID-19 patient support. From hospital capacity to real-time data from Johns Hopkins, we started to think like epidemiologists to track community spread of COVID-19. This abundance of data predicts demand, helping our manufacturer partners plan operations 30, 60, and even 90 days in advance. Data is vital to efficient decision making, especially in times of crisis, and I think it’s important that we continue to evaluate data and technology as a means to manage risk, predict vulnerabilities and ultimately, help strength our overall health care supply chain.

4. What Motivates You to Keep Doing the Work You Do?

As the President of AmerisourceBergen’s Distribution Services & Supply Chain Operations division, I have the honor and privilege of leading our entire US-based distribution network that supports the delivery of human and animal health pharmaceutical products nationwide. In our distribution centers across the country, our associates make sure necessary pharmaceuticals arrive at pharmacies, vet and physician offices and health systems every single day. We’re the reason local pharmacies are stocked with inventory and local hospitals have the medicines they need to help patients that come through their doors – whether they’re two or four legged! Making sure pharmaceuticals get where they’re needed so providers can treat their patients is what motivates me day in and day out.  

5. What’s One Piece of Advice You’d Give an Aspiring Health Care Leader?

When facing a new opportunity, those butterflies in your belly are a sign that growth is happening – it’s not a sign of fear. Feel it, recognize it for what it is and step into your moment.