2012 NPPA Conference Review, Part 1

By Michael J.W. Thomas, CPhT
NPPA Conference Moderator

 Every year, NPPA tries to come up with a buzzword or catch phrase to describe accurately the atmosphere of our Annual Conference.  This year, the only way to describe the 16th Annual NPPA Conference held at Bally’s Las Vegas in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip would be “Stepped Up.”

This August, approximately 300 Pharmacy Buyer & GPO Attendees, 87 Exhibiting Vendor Companies, and 340 Exhibitor Representatives, gathered for this annual event, and the general consensus was indeed that everyone stepped up.  With tough economic times still taking its toll on business related travel, the Pharmacy Buyer numbers were somewhat reduced compared to previous years.  Nevertheless, even with our sluggish economy, Pharmacy Buyer Attendance was larger than any other non-pharmacist professional meeting this year.  It filled the large Lecture Hall to the point that extra chairs had to be added to accommodate the unexpected number of walk-in registrations.  This year, as is usually the case for our Annual Conference growth, we had approximately 30% new Buyer-Attendees to the NPPA Conference.  Those attendees even had name badges with such a notation, so that more veteran attendees could notice and be more accommodating to the new attendees in welcoming them to the show for the first time, and helping with anything they may be unfamiliar with.

Pharmacy Buyers from all over the country, from varying sizes of institutions, levels of experience, and years in the profession were all gathered to hear the latest in Pharmacy Buyer issues, and to network with their peers as uniquely can be done at an NPPA Conference.  While the meeting room in chevron classroom setup was large, there were also two prominent screens on either side for easy viewing of the slide presentations.  Also, each participant had their own binder containing copies of the slides for reference during each presentation and for study afterwards.

The meeting started with introductions of the NPPA staff.  Unfortunately, Francine Morgano, NPPA Vice President, Editor, & Event Supervisor, was not in attendance this year due to unavoidable personal commitments, but NPPA President, CEO, & Editor-in-Chief Dale J. Kroll was on hand to welcome the attendees to the Conference.  Conference Moderator Michael J.W. Thomas, CPhT gave a brief background of the organization for the benefit of new attendees, and explained NPPA’s mission and goals.

Thomas introduced the new members of the NPPA Advisory Board, volunteers who have made themselves available to the NPPA Executive Board to act as a resource on Association policy and to be the liaison between the Executive Board and the general membership.  The members of the 2012-2013 NPPA Advisory Board are as follows:

Debby Flannery, Pharmacy Purchasing Coordinator from Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California;

Deb Harden, Pharmacy Buyer from The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio;

Nina Karl, CPhT, Pharmacy Purchasing Coordinator from St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montana;

Vicki Wernes, Pharmacy Buyer from St. Anthony Medical Center in Crown Point, Indiana; and

Leanne Witt, CPhT, Inventory Specialist & 340B Coordinator from Mercy Pharmacy Services in Springfield, Missouri (a brand-new position for Leanne, which she just started recently, after the Conference).

These five individuals are available to discuss issues facing NPPA as an Association, and to offer recommendations to the Executive Board to better serve the membership.

Thomas then went on to introduce the candidates for this year’s Outstanding Buyer of the Year Awards, an honor given to three extraordinary NPPA members every year.  A distinctive plaque was provided to each winner, which were presented to each of the awardees by NPPA President Dale Kroll and representatives from Hospira Inc., the sponsor of the Outstanding Buyer of the Year Awards.

The difficult task of selecting three honorees from the record-breaking 14 nominees was indeed a herculean task, to be sure, but after much deliberation from our panel of judges, the decision for the 3 top winners were as follows.

1st Place:  Melissa Collins, CPhT, Pharmacy Buyer from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, Florida, who was awarded a $1,000 education /travel grant;

2nd Place:  Susan Nygaard, RPh, Inventory Coordinator, from Sanford USD Med Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who was awarded a $500 education/travel grant; and

3rd Place:  Annie Ngo, CPhT, Pharmacy Buyer from Stanford Hospital & Clinics in Stanford, California, who was awarded a $200 education/travel grant.

The formal meeting started with a humorous motivational presentation.  Jason Kotecki, Speaker, Author & Artist, of Madison, Wisconsin, urged the attendees present to not forget the little things that make you happy and to have fun in his presentation:  “Curing Adultitis™ – Living & Working with Less Stress During Trying Times.”  His multimedia presentation was peppered with humorous anecdotes, and he even presented an “Oprah” like surprise gift to one lucky attendee.  At times, you could hear the laughter of the attendees from outside the Lecture Hall, a positive sign that the audience was getting the message.

Next, the Conference got down to pharmacy related business, as Christopher Fortier, PharmD, Manager of Pharmacy Support & Operating Room Services from The Medical University of South Carolina; and Adjunct Assistant Professor of South Carolina College of Pharmacy in Charleston, South Carolina dove into the serious topic of Guaranteeing High Quality Outsourcing of Pharmacy Services, which every Pharmacy Buyer knows is a vital service for any Pharmacy.  Dr. Fortier pointed out the factors one should consider when selecting an outsourcer, and what can be out-sourced to a compounding company, or some other extemporaneous packing service.

Always willing to try something new, the NPPA Conference Regional Networking Forum was a uniquely revised format for Pharmacy Buyers to communicate with each other.  Building on the “speed-meeting” concepts used last year, Pharmacy Buyers were separated into rooms of seven regions of the country, helping the Buyers to discuss issues specific to their areas, and to make better connections with their peers locally and regionally.  This author peeked into each room, finding that the discussions were lively, and apparently productive.  Initial perspectives were overwhelmingly positive, and it is expected that this format may be what will be used in future Conferences.

Returning from their separate networking meetings, the attendees once more gathered into the Lecture Hall for the final presentation of the day.  L. Ross Day, RPh, Director of the Pharmacy Business Unit, Novation LLC, Irving, Texas; and Steven Lucio, PharmD, BCPS, Director of Clinical Pharmacy Solutions, Novation LLC, Irving, Texas gave a dual presentation on:  “Generics & Biosimilars – The Changing Pharmaceutical Pipeline.” This lecture covered an update on the status of this emerging drug class and the legal aspects of this class, the legal aspects surrounding its adoption, and the steps the FDA is taking to move this new class of drug along.  It served to qualify as the 1-hour of certification-mandated ACPE Pharmacy Law.

With the day’s lectures completed, both attendees and vendors that opted to participate, gathered in the picturesque Sky-View Room atop the 26th Floor of Bally’s for NPPA’s official Opening Reception, with an expansive view of the Las Vegas Strip and beyond. There, we enjoyed an evening of light dining (though to some, the term “light” was debatable), as many of the guests very much enjoyed the bounty of the buffet spread and a full hosted bar, highlighted with casual and sometimes animated conversation.  The buzz of the night was the fabulous ice sculpture with the NPPA logo carved in, donated by the hotel.  Everyone with a camera took turns posing with the sculpture as a memento of the evening.

Those attendees who stayed at the Reception until the very end were treated to a surprise. In a game of “Birthday Roulette,” three lucky attendees walked away with $50 American Express Gift Cards, just for having such a good time they did not want to leave.  At the end of the evening, as usual, the remaining guests “closed out” the Reception, off to their next adventure in the Vegas night.  Many attendees, with such a full day of activities completed, retired to their comfortable sleeping rooms, which were conveniently located in the same tower as the Reception and all other conference events.

Day Two started with a lecture from Michael O. Gum, PharmD, Executive Director of Pharmacy, DePaul Health Center/ SSM Health Care, St. Louis, Bridgeton, Missouri on The Role of the Pharmacy Buyer in Medication & Patient Safety.  Dr. Gum focused on the areas of IV and Medication Safety Pharmacy Buyers can take an active role in safeguarding, with a special focus on barcoding and reports from ISMP.  Dr. Gum’s presentation was courtesy of an Educational Grant from Hospira, Inc., who also sponsored the Outstanding Buyer of the Year Awards.

Then one of NPPA’s new Advisory Board Members, Leanne Witt, Pharmacy Buyer from Mercy Pharmacy Services (previously of Cox Healthcare), brought a co-speaker this year for a sorely needed discussion on “Training a New Pharmacy Buyer & Buyer Assistant.”  Ms. Witt, along with co-speaker Michelle Hurst of Cox Health System in Springfield, Missouri, gave a step-by-step primer on this very important issue.  With Pharmacy Buyers being held at their jobs, unable to attend important functions such as the NPPA Conference for lack of backup at their facilities, the need to know how to train competent replacements, both temporary and permanent, is a valuable learning process needed for all Pharmacy Buyers in all job situations.

From there, it was time for the second breakout of the Conference, the GPO Break-Out Sessions, where Pharmacy Buyers had the opportunity to talk face-to-face with the upper administration of their GPO companies.  It is a rare opportunity for Pharmacy Buyers to be able to take advantage of this part of the meeting, where issues can be voiced to the decision-makers of these companies.  Often in reality, purchasing groups have grown so large these days, they usually meet with small task forces of their member buyers; but in this case, every attendee of the conference belonging to these GPO’s was able to have up-front and personal access to these important partners in the cost reduction efforts within the profession.  In attendance this year were Amerinet, MedAssets, Novation, and Premier.

The last presentation of the day was given by Dr. Fortier, on a second visit to the NPPA Conference stage this year with another advanced topic, “Effective Management & Negotiation Strategies for Pharmaceutical Contracts.”  This was one of the subject areas most requested by the membership via polls and recommendations by the NPPA Advisory Board, and helped continue to satisfy the educational needs of the advanced Pharmacy Buyer.

The second day ended with the first day of Pharmaceutical Displays in Bally’s expansive Vendor Exhibit Hall.  Here again, the vendors stepped up their efforts to impress the attendees present.  Vendors showed off their wares in towering display booths, engaging the attendees with the latest in pharmaceutical products, and entertaining them with games and prizes.

NPPA, not wanting to be left out of the fun, engaged an unknown worker, not associated with the meeting, to come up to 3 random Buyer-Attendees and award them each with a $100 American Express Gift Card.  No one, not even the NPPA staff, was aware of when these phantom “gifters” would strike throughout the exhibit hall hours, and most of the attendees were unaware that this was happening right under their noses until they were a lucky recipient!

This completes Part I of the 16th Annual Conference Review.  As a reminder, please make sure that, if you are in a state that requires ACPE-accredited CE as a requirement for re-certification, registration, and licensure, you must log your hours into the NABP CPE Monitor Program, a clearinghouse for recording CEs for the entire country.  In addition, do not forget to log your hours with PTCB if you are a certified pharmacy technician, regardless of whether you must report to your state or not.  Instructions for doing both are located in the Member-Only section of our website, PharmacyPurchasing.com.

This was our first time holding our event at Bally’s Las Vegas, where we’ll be returning again next year, August 19-22, 2013.  Please consider joining us!

Look for the Part 2 conclusion of this year’s NPPA Conference Review in the October edition of Pharmacy Purchasing Outlook, the official publication of NPPA.


Please Note: Part 1 was included in the September edition and Part 2 (which can be accessed below) was included in the October edition of PPO.

Click HERE to read Part 2 of the 2012 NPPA Conference Review