FLINT — When Jeffrey Rowe sold his two small pharmacies and joined Phil Hagerman’s Diplomat Pharmacy in 1993, he was Employee No. 12.
He was also the only pharmacist working for the place not named Hagerman.
Today, Rowe said he practically has to pinch himself when he walks in to what is now Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy Inc., since the company now has 868 employees and will post sales of about $1.6 billion this year.
Diplomat is also entering its third year of being headquartered in a 380,000 square-foot building formerly occupied by General Motors. Originally a Fisher Body plant, the site was later remodeled into an engineering center with more than 5,000 employees. Its last GM incarnation was as a call center for GM’s parts operations.
Diplomat currently occupies about half the space. Rowe and his colleagues, who gave me a tour of the offices Friday, say it will be less than the planned 10 years before they occupy all of it.
Today, expansive cubicle farms full of benefits managers perform Diplomat’s bread-and-butter function, helping doctors and patients manage serious, complex diseases with very complex regimes of pharmaceuticals. Included are treatments for diseases like cancer, Crohn’s Disease, hemophilia, hepatitis, HIV-AIDS, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and more.
Diplomat staff help patients find funding to pay for these prescriptions ($19 million in 2012) , package them in various easy-to-remember dosage packs, and stay in contact with patients to insure medication compliance and management of side effects. In some cases, Diplomat’s staff of compounding pharmacists actually formulates the drugs — for example, turning a pill into a liquid for a pediatric patient, or creating a dosage a doctor wants that isn’t commonly available.
Diplomat processes about 3,000 prescriptions on an average day — top capacity of the current physical plant would be about twice that — and does about 300 compounding jobs a day.
An in-house staff of more than 70 IT experts creates the company’s technological interface with its customers, eNav. Business analysts, project managers, front end and back end experts, application developers, user-interface experts and quality assurance pros all are working on what Jenny Cretu, vice president of IT and marketing, called “a complete upgrade and rewrite” of eNav. The IT staff is moving Diplomat’s application to the state of the art, from .Net 4.5 for Windows apps to SQL 2012 for Big Data management to Visual Studio 2012 for Web apps.
The eNav system manages and supports the entire patient treatment process, enabling collection of information on each patient and their entire disease and treatment histories.
Rowe and Cretu said Diplomat is now struggling to find IT staff, since it’s now competing with companies like Quicken Loans, GalaxE Solutions and others in Detroit’s growing tech hub. And it’s always struggled to find medically trained staff — essentially, pharmacy technicians.
For the latter, at least, Rowe said Diplomat has created its own “Diplomat University,” where new pharmacy tech hires undergo a month-long course on patient care and dispensing software. The “university” has four major classrooms and eight full-time teaching staff.
Diplomat also manages the complex specialty pharmacy operations of several major retailers’ pharmacies, including Costco, Safeway and Target.
About 40 registered pharmacists and a larger number of registered nurses are on the staff, manning a clinical help desk answering questions from patients and medical offices. All told the Diplomat call center handles about 6,000 calls a day.
As for IT hardware, the company maintains its own data center with 80 terabytes of storage (about to be expanded to 120) and is currently shopping for a new offsite business continuity vendor.
The headquarters also features an expansive cafeteria and fitness center.
But even with all this growth, the Diplomat offices remain a place where patients’ life stories — telling how Diplomat and its products and services keep them healthy and happy — adorn the walls.
“We’ve never lost focus on what got us here, which is the patients,” Rowe said.
For more information on Diplomat’s services and its employment opportunities, visit www.diplomatpharmacy.com.