AU pharmacy professors, alumnus design model facility for high-tech home health pharmacies

AUBURN – Auburn University pharmacy professors and an AU alumnus have designed a model facility to help pharmacists offer complex medications for in-home use, ones that are normally administered only in hospitals.

Pharmacy professors Kenneth Barker and Betsy Flynn have spent the last year leading a multidisciplinary team to design a fully operational structure that will be built for Vital Care Inc. in Meridian, Miss. AU pharmacy graduate Johnny Bell, who owns Vital Care, asked the AU professors to design the facility.

The two-story, 13,000-square-foot building will be used to prepare, dispense and administer the medications, while, at the same time, serving as a prototype model for pharmacists interested in opening a home-infusion franchise.

Home infusion is a growing trend among pharmacies in which they offer complex medications that nurses, caregivers or patients themselves administer in homes. This includes potent intravenous antibiotics, chemotherapy, cardiac medications and intravenous nutritional formulas.

“This was a perfect opportunity for us to design a new facility from scratch for a rapidly growing industry,” said Barker, director of the Center for Research on Pharmacy Operations and Designs in AU’s Harrison School of Pharmacy. “Most often, architectural plans must work within existing buildings, whereas here we get to start with a clean slate.”

Bell, a 1970 AU pharmacy graduate and former president of the AU Pharmacy Alumni Association, contracted with Auburn University in 2006 to develop the plans.

“With Auburn’s help, we are building the model facility to show pharmacists how they can provide this much-needed service, especially in rural areas,” said Bell, who, along with his staff, participated throughout the design process. “We combined our knowledge of high-technology therapies and infusion pharmacy operations with the design and ergonomics knowledge of the AU design team.”

The AU pharmacists worked on the project with AU Industrial Design professors Shea Tillman and Christopher Arnold, along with architect Robert Luke of Luke Peterson Kaye Architects in Meridian. The group developed a blueprint that calls for specially designed rooms and fixtures for improved operational flow and prevention of medical errors.

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

“Dr. Barker has devoted his career to designing better layouts for hospitals and pharmacies, so we wanted to use his center’s expertise,” said Bell. “We wanted an ergonomic design with an efficient and safe operational flow. They also helped determine the amount of space needed now, but that would also allow for future expansions by franchisees.”

Barker, who joined the AU faculty in 1976, has worked extensively with the architectural firm of Earl Swensson Associates in Nashville, Tenn., to study the “hospital of the future.” He is the author of the government manual, “Planning for Hospital Pharmacies,” which he wrote as a Ph.D. student at the University of Mississippi in 1974. His AU colleague Flynn earned her Ph.D. in 1984 in the unique AU Pharmacy Facilities Design Program in the Harrison School of Pharmacy.

AU alumnus Bell founded Vital Care ( 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.

Barker says Vital Care is “on the verge of being truly a national organization” in the home-infusion industry. “In the history of American chain drugstores, they almost always buy other stores to expand. Vital Care allows pharmacies to expand their businesses by offering more services,” Barker said.

A ground-breaking ceremony will be held in January for the model facility, which is expected to open in late 2008. It will be owned and operated as a franchise by Bell’s son, Jonathan Charles Bell, an Auburn graduate with bachelor’s degrees in nursing and healthcare administration.

(Contributed by Charles Martin.)

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