Not only has Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy brought hundreds of jobs to the Flint area, it is a company with a heart for its patients. With the motto, “Take good care of people and the rest will fall into place,” CEO Phil Hagerman has transformed the once-small, family-owned pharmacy into what is today a billion dollar corporation, not only spurring area job growth, but helping patients through some very rough times.
“Diplomat’s success has been intertwined with Flint and Genesee County since our inception,” said Phil. Under the leadership of Phil’s father, Dale Hagerman, Diplomat opened as a retail pharmacy on Flushing Road 38 years ago. More than 20 years later, they relocated to a facility on Beecher Road where, upon seeing a real need for specialty medications, they got into compounding. The company is now the nation’s fourth largest specialty pharmacy and the largest one independently-owned.
“Diplomat has found its niche in specialty pharmacy,” said Steve Wolbert, Director of Community Relations and Government Affairs, speaking about the company’s service to patients who have rare and chronic illnesses requiring complex medications. Specialty pharmacies help patients with serious long-term diseases such as cancer, HIV, hemophilia, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis by producing medications that account for the complexity of these diseases.
The heart of Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy is helping patients who have very serious illnesses. “We really try to support these patients,” said Steve. “It’s what we do better than anyone else.” Brenda Hawkes, Manager of Patient Advocacy, has a lot of compassion for the very sick, having been successfully treated for breast cancer herself. As a friend of the Hagerman family, Brenda said Phil wanted someone to care for the patients in a personal way and to educate them about available resources, since the average monthly cost of medicine for various illnesses usually ranges from $3,000 to $15,000 per patient. Many experts at Diplomat assist with billing, helping patients to fill the gap between the cost of their medicine and what co-pays don’t cover. “We don’t set the prices,” Brenda said, “but we do have a funding department of 18 people who are experts at finding co-pay assistance.” To that end, Diplomat helped secure more than $19 million in co-pay assistance in 2012 alone.
In addition to guiding patients financially, there are coordinators and nurses on staff to counsel patients and caregivers about prescription drugs and side effects. Aiding this effort are counselors who give out a myriad of care kits, which include over-the-counter medications to combat side effects. “It’s a small thing but it makes a difference,” said Brenda, relating how many patients live in rural areas where there isn’t a corner drug store. “We don’t charge; it’s just the right thing to do.”
Diplomat is currently focused on giving back to the community. Last year, one of the company’s projects was the Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy Crim Mile Marker Challenge, in which artistically-painted blue mile marker lines were sold to sponsors. The $20,000 they raised allowed women facing economic challenges to participate in the race. The Mile Marker Challenge is back on an even bigger scale this year, with several leading Flint organizations and professionals already on board as official sponsors.
Another project Diplomat promotes is the St. Luke N.E.W. (North End Women) Life Center. Diplomat joined with other area businessmen including Phil Shaltz, Steve Landaal, and Flint private practice physician Nita Kulkarni, MD, to form a business advisory council for the Center’s scrub uniform and accessories business. Founded and led by two Flint nuns, Sr. Carol Weber and Sr. Judy Blake, St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center is a faith-based program that incorporates education and workplace training to help women become self-sufficient providers for their families. One of the workplace training options is learning to sew. At the conclusion of the sewing program, women may apply for a seamstress position at a business formed in 2008 that makes scrub tops and bottoms, hospital gowns, adult garment protectors, I.D. lanyards and cell phone covers. This business currently employs 16 women full time. Said Phil, “We’ve fine-tuned our focus on a key Diplomat strategic goal: to go beyond ‘checkbook philanthropy’ – to expand our corporate citizenship initiatives and, in doing so, help create a strong community fabric in Flint again.”
Service is not confined to the top tier of the company; the Diplomat staff is also giving back to the community. The company recently sponsored a contest in which staff members competed to see who could buy the most food items and toiletries for local charities using only $25 and coupons. Spending $300 total, employees bought nearly $2,200 worth of items, which were donated to Carriage Town Ministries and St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center.
Flint’s economy got a boost when Diplomat moved its corporate office to the former GM Great Lakes Technical Centre in 2010. Said Phil, “Our decision to move our company within the city of Flint was one of the most important and beneficial decisions in our history. Since then, we’ve hired hundreds of workers from the region.” Diplomat now has a staff of nearly 900, approximately 75 percent of whom are from Genesee County, and the once vacant property is now a bustling business.
These signs of prosperity, along with Diplomat’s legacy of community service, shine like a beacon, promising better days ahead for the dear old city. “I think it gives Flint a sign of hope,” said Steve. The writing on the wall certainly seems to spell hope, as visitors to Diplomat’s corporate office on Saginaw Street can attest. A beautiful, tiled wall mural, created by hundreds of students with special needs from the Genesee Intermediate School District, tells the story of Flint’s history and Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy’s role in that story. Highlighted in the mural are the words, Take good care of people and the rest will fall into place. “We live by that motto,” Steve said. “We want to make an impact on the lives of our patients, as well as on the community we call home.”
PHOTOS BY AUTUMN D. RUMMEL
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