Auburn pharmacy school helps design high-tech home health pharmacy

AUBURN –  A new Auburn University-designed, high-tech pharmacy in Meridian, Miss., is the first of its kind and is a model facility that could be built in communities across the United States.

Auburn pharmacy professors Kenneth Barker and Betsy Flynn led a multidisciplinary team in designing the recently opened facility for Vital Care Inc., which will help pharmacists offer complex medications for in-home use, ones that are normally administered only in hospitals.

The two-story, 16,000-square-foot building is used for preparing, dispensing and administering the medications, while, at the same time, serving as a demonstration and teaching model for potential franchisees wishing to open a similar facility. Pharmacists may choose to duplicate the entire design for home-infusion medications or individual function areas.

Home infusion is a growing trend among pharmacies through which medications are administered in homes by nurses, caregivers or patients themselves. This includes potent intravenous antibiotics, chemotherapy, cardiac medications and intravenous nutritional formulas.

“We conducted research to determine the best work flows and safety for this new pharmacy that offers such high-level medication and treatments,” said Barker, director of the Center for Research on Pharmacy Operations and Designs in Auburn’s Harrison School of Pharmacy.

“Our pharmacy design program is unique in that we give much more attention to the functional programming phase than is normally given to the design of a commercial facility.”

Functional programming is the gathering of “evidence-based” information before any design work is considered. Barker’s team uses trained observers, who are pharmacists and nurses, to observe various operational setups to determine the best floor and fixture layout for each job function. He says this works much better than the traditional use of questionnaires given only to those who will be occupying a proposed facility.

“We also insist on interviewing the top 15 or so people in an organization and passing along our recommendations before even meeting with architects,” Barker said.

The new building has a sterile preparation area, compounding area and a specialty pharmacy area for limited-distribution medicines, such as those used in clinical trials. It also has four treatment suites for patients who need to receive treatments at the facility, rather than at home. Patients are able to receive treatment while having Internet access, listening to music or watching television on the suite’s audio-video system.

The Auburn pharmacists worked on the project with professors Shea Tillman and Christopher Arnold of Auburn’s Department of Industrial Design; Meridian architect Robert Luke of Luke Peterson Kaye Architects; information technology consultant Brad Barker; and Paul Giles, vice president of R.C. Smith company which designs pharmacy fixtures.

Auburn alumni Johnny H. Bell, owner Vital Care Inc., and son Jonathan C. Bell, owner of the Vital Care franchise that serves Meridian and West Alabama, asked the Auburn professors to help design the facility.

“We now have a model facility to show pharmacists how they can provide home infusion service, especially in rural areas,” said the senior Bell, an alumnus of the Auburn School of Pharmacy. “We combined our staff’s knowledge of high-technology therapies and infusion pharmacy operations with the design and ergonomics knowledge of the Auburn design team.”

Bell founded Vital Care Inc. in 1986 and has expanded the company to 75 employees in Meridian and 140 franchisees in 18 states. In addition to assisting franchisees with their business startup, Vital Care conducts various business and clinical functions and it offers expertise about reimbursement from Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance companies. The company provides information about construction of medication preparation areas to comply with federal and state requirements. Also, its nurses travel to the franchisee’s area to train local nurses to work with home-infusion patients.

Contact: Kenneth Barker, (334) 844-8300 (, or
Charles Martin, (334) 844-9986 (