Bayer Canada Taking Action Against COVID-19

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When a hospital in Calgary, Alberta needed urgent repairs to vital diagnostic imaging equipment, Graeme Boyd, part of Bayer Canada’s radiology equipment service team, didn’t hesitate. What may have been a routine flight and repair for the Montreal-based field service representative just a few months ago was profoundly different thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. With patients in acute need and local options exhausted, Graeme jumped to the challenge. He carefully made the trip using all precautions and got this essential equipment up and running.

This spirit of stepping up and doing whatever it takes to keep Bayer’s critical work and services going is a common thread through the company’s response to the pandemic.

Alok Kanti

What Bayer does can’t and hasn’t stopped due to COVID-19.

“What Bayer does can’t and hasn’t stopped due to COVID-19,” says Alok Kanti, President and CEO of Bayer Inc. in Canada. “The pandemic has put a spotlight on the importance of our two sectors – healthcare and nutrition. Canadian farmers rely on us to help them grow successful crops, doctors rely on our medicines and technologies to treat their patients, and consumers rely on us to help them live healthier lives. It has been inspiring to see everyone from Bayer come together to support Canadians through this unprecedented time.”

Taking Care of our employees

Early in the pandemic, Bayer prioritized the health and safety of employees. Most employees, except for those at a few Crop Science sites where remote work isn’t possible, have been working from home since early March. For Alok, the rationale for putting employees first is simple.

“We’re stronger together, and that means we need to take care of each other,” he says. “Our team has always worked towards the same purpose – science for a better life – and a few months before this crisis began, Bayer introduced a new vision, health for all, hunger for none. The pandemic, which has amplified just how important access to basics like food and medicine is, has added extra meaning to our rallying cries.”

Our global contribution in the fight against COVID-19. As a leading company in health and nutrition, we have an enormous responsibility to make a contribution during the pandemic.

Like many other organizations, the need to pivot to remote working came abruptly for Bayer, with the majority of employees working from home within less than 48 hours. For Jaclyn Henkleman, Head of Health, Safety & Environment and team lead for the company’s Critical Action Committee (CAC), a business continuity task force triggered during times of crisis, the groundwork laid in the months leading up to the pandemic have proven helpful.

“Prior to the pandemic we were putting a heavy focus on leveraging digital technology, and I think that working remotely has clearly shown just how important that is,” says Jaclyn. “People are doing an amazing job at adapting to this new situation with the support of our awesome IT group. As we come out of this, I believe we are going to continue to take what we’ve learned to get even stronger as an organization.”

Jaclyn points to the company’s emphasis on mental health and wellbeing as crucial to employees feeling supported to deliver business continuity while managing life’s ups and downs.

“We have a very active Livewell Council who are focused on helping to ensure people have access to the resources they need to support them, not just at work but in their personal lives as well.”

With a potential return to more regular operations on the horizon, a new cross-functional committee is focusing on the next phase, looking at every detail and taking a cautious approach, says Jaclyn.

“We’re putting together guidance on how we will conduct all of our tasks safely, such as an eventual return to working from the office”, she comments. “The plan is built within the guardrails of some important guiding principles, like the safety of our people and the flexibility to adapt to changing situations.”

Female employee wearing face mask to prevent the spread of covid19
Bayer’s emphasis on mental health and wellbeing is crucial to employees feeling supported.

Our safety and supply measures

Bayer’s Radiology employees like Graeme Boyd, and the Crop Science employees who work at sites with active operations, have had the added challenge of quickly adopting pandemic safety precautions on the job.

“Right from the beginning, they have shown tremendous agility and flexibility to change their operations, to really look at how they can do things differently to prioritize the safety of both employees and customers,” says Kaleigh Gray, HSE Specialist for Bayer’s Crop Science Division.

At Crop Science sites, along with re-arranging work areas, installing plexiglass, increased cleaning and other measures, one of the key changes has been moving to shifts to help reduce the risk of spread and to support business continuity. For Adam Parsons, Supply Chain Management Lead for Bayer Crop Science, these changes have been crucial to keeping product supply uninterrupted. Another key, he says, is being nimble enough to respond to sometimes rapidly evolving variables along the supply chain.

“Situations across the world can affect our supply chain, especially what is happening in North America with issues like cross-border shipping, in-country shipping and others,” says Calgary-based Adam. “If we are not able to get the products we produce to the ultimate end user, like farmers, it can have some far-reaching impacts pretty fast, and that’s a big responsibility we have as a company and as a leader in this area.”

Saskatchewan Farmer, Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel and their family
Saskatchewan Farmer, Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel and family.

For millions of families around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic means home now doubles as a classroom, and for Saskatchewan farmer Cherilyn Jolly-Nagel it’s no different. Read more about farming through Covid-19 here.

The battle against COVID-19

Along with highlighting the importance of supplying basics like food, medicine and consumer goods, the mounting human impact of the pandemic has prompted intense global focus on finding ways to combat the virus. Just ask Shurjeel Choudhri, Bayer Canada’s Head of Medical and Scientific Affairs and a Senior Vice President of Bayer Inc. He led the company’s lightning-fast collaboration with the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) to launch a major clinical research program aimed at identifying potential COVID-19 treatments. It began, he explains, with a Friday evening phone call from PHRI Executive Director Dr. Salim Yusuef

“It was Friday, March 20th when I first spoke with Dr. Yusuef and what we discussed was just the idea for a potential study,” Shurjeel recalls. “In less than a month we had finalized the study protocol, obtained, Health Canada approval, obtained approval to proceed from the research ethics board, approval from our Global team, obtained study drug supply and enrolled the first patient. In the normal course of events, getting a really large study like this started can take a year or more.”

Shurjeel Choudhri

This is a remarkable story about what is possible when everyone is passionate and determined about a common purpose.

Bayer contributed $1.5M to fund the research program, which will evaluate the safety and efficacy of different combination therapies for the treatment of COVID-19

Shurjeel, an infectious disease specialist who spent his early career focused on HIV treatment and research, says urgent global efforts by researchers and pharmaceutical companies like Bayer to find solutions for COVID-19 have some similarities to that earlier pandemic.

“When I started my academic practice there were essentially no treatments for HIV, and within a few years we had several,” he recalls. “Today there are more than two dozen treatments, and a disease that used to be uniformly fatal is now manageable. In these situations, it’s so important to study anything that has the potential to work, and with COVID-19, the hope is that we will be more successful with developing vaccines as well.”

Lab researcher in holding a vial

Bayer gives back

As scientists around the world race against the clock to battle the virus, Bayer is making other contributions to help those in need on the home front.

Derrick Rozdeba

We’re seeing the immediate impacts of the pandemic, but this is a marathon, not a race.

“We’re seeing the immediate impacts of the pandemic, but this is a marathon, not a race,” says Derrick Rozdeba, V.P. Communications, Public Affairs, Science and Sustainability, Bayer Inc. “Along with the effects on people’s health and well-being, we can also anticipate financial hardships over the longer term. Employees want to help where they can.”

In April, the company matched employee donations. The resulting $20,000 donation to Food Banks Canada will help the organization provide up to 60,000 meals for Canadians hard-hit by the crisis. Bayer also matched donations to the Canadian Red Cross and encouraged employees to answer the call for help from Canadian Blood Services. Bayer’s Procurement team donated $500 in Uber Eats gift cards to frontline workers in three Greater Toronto Area hospitals as well as the REACH food program in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Bayer raised $20,000 for Food Banks Canada

Bayer’s Consumer Health division provided over $500,000 in products to Health Partners International of Canada (HPIC) to support humanitarian relief in developing nations around the world. St. Joseph’s Health Centre (the Unity Foundation) received more than $7,000 in Consumer Health products to distribute as part of personal care kits for frontline health workers. The company supported other organizations, such as the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, which received funding for personal protective equipment (PPE), and the Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology (SOGC), which received funding to help its efforts to ensure that access to contraception is seen as essential during the pandemic.

The uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic was particularly challenging for patients with serious illnesses like cancer because of concerns about making sure their care was uninterrupted. The company worked quickly to assure continuity of care, including those enrolled in its oncology Patient Support Programs, securing continued supply of medicines as well as compassionate access for those in need, and even coordinating home delivery.

Ophthalmologists have no choice but to get up close and personal with their patients during examinations and surgeries, all high-risk activities during COVID-19. Sourcing and learning how to use personal protective equipment (PPE) is critical. That’s why Bayer donated $40,000 to help the Canadian Ophthalmological Society (COS) increase access to PPE for practicing ophthalmologists.

“We are proud to be there in support of our communities and our partners during these challenging times,” said James Stretch, Business Unit Head Ophthalmology. “This donation will help our partners at the COS explore, source, and provide critical education around the appropriate use of safety equipment, so that they can maintain their health as well as that of their patients.”

Stronger Together

Stronger together

For Derrick, these and other contributions, along with Bayer’s focus on employees, customers and research, is exactly what the company stands for.

“We sit in a unique place in that everything we do is for the benefit of humanity,” says Derrick. “It is part of our culture to want to do more, especially when we’re in a time like this. When you’re working towards a vision like ‘Health for all, hunger for none,’ we know that every little bit that we can do helps.”

Graeme Boyd and his family
Graeme Boyd and his family.

It’s a feeling shared by Graeme Boyd, who safely returned home to Montreal following his emergency trip to get essential diagnostic imaging equipment fixed in Calgary.

“My core job is the same, but there’s so much more to it now,” he says. “I take pride in what I’m doing because what I do has a huge impact on people, and now it’s even greater because we’re all in this together.”