SUPER STORY #1 – Heroes among us
24. February 2021.
Shortly after the outbreak of the global coronavirus pandemic, it has become clear to all of us that the fight for human health is a priority, and that the local pharmaceutical industry is one of the pillars of the healthcare system stability in each country. In order to ensure regular supply of medicines to the market also in this period of uncertainties, aware of their responsibilities, Hemofarm employees reorganized themselves as fast as possible over the past year, guided by one goal - to quickly and effectively safeguard themselves and the company, and providing the possibility for all patients to receive their therapy on time.

Although the credit for responsible behavior, quick reaction and acceptance of occupational changes have affected the entire Hemofarm workforce, this time we bring the story of a team that has found itself in the background of these efforts and ensured, with its experience and commitment, that the company stays safe and truly strong even in the most difficult circumstances.

It is the Occupational Health and Safety and Environmental Protection Team (HSE team) that has kept the whole organization together, providing support to colleagues, timely information, as well as clear procedures on safe behavior in times of uncertainties. Owing to the excellent coordination and communication, this team headed by Lara Kerkez-Bubalo, HSE Manager, has contributed to the joint action of employees at all Hemofarm sites in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We have learned by way of an interview with Lara and members of her team why their story deserves to be entitled - Hemofarm's SUPER Story.

’Since the first day of the pandemic, we have been doing our job any way we can think of. In regular circumstances, the job of HSE is to use its best efforts to provide conditions for healthy and safe stay and work of employees. However, no matter how much we have been preparing ourselves for various situations, our task in such extraordinary circumstances we have found ourselves in upon the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, has become much more complicated’, these are the words with which Lara begins her and her team's story of great effort and strong will to overcome all unfamiliar circumstances, which the COVID-19 virus has put before us.

Super priča - timska slika
The team which has committed itself to ensuring that colleagues stay safe and the company operational even in the most difficult circumstances during the global pandemic.

When you look back at the outbreak of the epidemic, what would you especially highlight?

Lara: It is the fact that we have immediately formed the Crisis Team. As always, the rule that a good team is worth more than the mere sum of its members has been confirmed. Everyone has given their contribution. Ideas have come up and have been implemented almost incredibly quickly, and the fact that we have managed to keep pace also in the initial phase when we did not know what the next day would bring us, is one of the most impressive moments.

Do you think the epidemic has caught us like an unannounced storm?

Lara: HSE is a fairly regulated area, but at that time, there were no specific guidelines for the fight against COVID. You are learning on the go, relying on both your own and other teams, looking for best practices and adapting to circumstances. The only thing that was absolutely known to us at the beginning was the basic principle of HSE - prevention. Reactive response has always been the second line of defense. We were aware that we had to define the actions as soon as possible so that we could start and implement them as soon as possible. That is why we have developed the Prevention and Response Plan. Of course, at the beginning, there were doubts whether we had adequately defined the actions, whether they were sufficient and whether they would be really helpful. However, in the moments when due to fatigue, uncertainty or specific circumstances I was wondering what to do, the Plan always and doubtlessly indicated where and how to proceed further.

Many activities have emerged from the Plan and activities of the Crisis Team, and most of them have been implemented precisely by the HSE team. Which activities have been of crucial importance?

Lara: Without any special order, they include: harmonization with medical practice; counseling on the procedure in case we have infected patients or contacts; daily monitoring of global knowledge on COVID; harmonizing the procedure in accordance with the best knowledge; providing support to our employees who are infected or in isolation; daily communication with competent institutions in order to obtain confirmation that what we are doing is in accordance with the rules of the medical profession and pursuant to the law; providing sufficient quantities of disinfectants, protective equipment and masks; procurement of plexiglass; training of disinfection teams and daily communication with employees, including internal communication. I hope I haven’t left out anything :).

Despite the evidently difficult year, countless new situations, can you single out some good moments, if any?

Lara: When you take care of people, they feel it, know it and are able to appreciate it. Colleagues have often called us, telling us that they have felt safer at work than at home, as if we were on an isolated island. We have been granted recognition from Vršac’s doctors indicating that, with its activities, Hemofarm has helped to slow down the epidemic to some extent in Vršac. If it hadn’t been for our conscientious approach and putting all potentially infected people in isolation, it would have been certain that there would be many more infected people in this city. Our self-isolation action and Statement of Self-Isolation prepared by colleagues from HR and Legal Affairs Department were shared by doctors in their group, as an example of good practice and gratitude. I have to also say that we suspected several times that colleagues working in production could have infected each other after being in contact with COVID-19 positive people. We established already in the first case that they observed the preventive actions, but we nevertheless asked them to remain in self-isolation. When they were tested after five days, they were all negative. It was only then that we had a confirmation for the first time that the actions we had prescribed were sufficient if observed in the right way. It has reinforced our belief that we are on the right track.

The transition to working from home has changed many business and private habits. As a wife and mother of three minor children, how have you balanced family and professional responsibilities?

Lara: It was very difficult at moments. The days at the outbreak of the crisis were especially difficult when my husband and I had to work, leaving our three children alone at home. At the same time, they shifted to online classes, so computers and telephones were always in shortage, while homework was done until 11 o'clock in the evening. Similar to the majority of people, we were without the help of grandparents. I used to get out of the house before the curfew and come back home when it started again, going on working. Our people say: ’The thinner it is, the easier it breaks’, and I'm happy because my family has shown that I have something to be proud of. We have taken on responsibilities as musch as we could, the daughters have helped each other about homework. They have also learned to prepare lunch, to do the ironing. That is why I gladly point out that they are definitely my heroes!

The coronavirus has been circulating around the world for a year now and it seems that as a society we have adapted to the new situation. Still, have you thought about what will be the focus of your team after the end of the pandemic?

Lara: The pandemic has definitely pushed us - the HSE team - into focus and inadvertently contributed to raising health awareness throughout the company. We have passed a long way from reacting reactively to adverse events, through constantly wearing protective equipment, and now we are on the way to becoming aware that the individual is solely responsible for his/her own health. It means that everyone should review the risk at their workplace on a daily basis, apply the stipulated actions, and wear the prescribed equipment. We are moving towards developing a culture in which the motive for safe behavior is not based on repression and fear of punishment, but rather on personal genuine concern for one's own safety and the safety of colleagues. That journey is not easy, but the final destination is achievable, and we are looking forward to it.

What is Hemofarm's SUPER story?

They are intimate stories about people and teams in our environment, some of which can eventually become company legends.

They are stories of collegiality, courage, sacrifice, responsibility, thoughtfulness, stories that we exchange with each other when we want to praise someone, not because it is expected, but because it is deserved.

They are our great stories and as such, they deserve to be heard and shared both inside and outside our organization.