A Conversation with Ken Paulus, Prime Therapeutics President and CEO, Part 4

In this excerpt of an interview with Managed Healthcare Executive®, Paulus discusses the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime's response and the future of its headquarters building.

Fourth of four parts

So could you discuss what Prime is doing to encourage COVID vaccination? Have you mandated it for for your employees? Are you in favor of mandates.

You know, COVID has just been a remarkable kind of event for us, this pandemic.

And in so many ways, it's been challenging me. We've lost so many freedoms and mobility and flexibility and it's been really hard.

It's also given certain benefits. The mRNA platforms are fabulous. We live in this golden age of genomic discovery. And one of the things I love about working with pharma is that it's one of the few industries where as a nation we lead in the world. We're out in front, and we can never lose that. They just provide an incredible value. And I think we all appreciate the science behind the vaccine development we're going to benefit from for years. It’ll be a decade of benefit through multiple different disease states. So I try to remember that there's a lot that we've taken from COVID, there's a lot COVID is taken away that I don't love. But we've we've we've clawed back some benefits, and that's one of them.

The other interesting benefit is that I think the way we used to work was outmoded. I think forcing everybody to drive into an office, a 45-minute commute, I don't think we're ever going back.

(At Prime) we've cut our real estate footprint down by 40%, easily; closed three or four buildings over the last 12 months. We're never going back.

We'll be in a hybrid mode.We'll work mostly at home with the ability to come in the office couple days a week, if you so choose, or one week off, one week on, through some kind of rolling activity. But we're never going back to the old model.

To answer your very specific question whether we require vaccination, we've been kind of waiting to see how this world unfolds in terms of what socially we can support. There's definitely more momentum around requiring vaccination. Because we can work from home with an accommodation, we're a little bit more comfortable requiring vaccinations to come into the office, because this accommodation of working at home is working great. We can tell our staff, hey, you really don't want to get vaccinated, but you can work from home and work good with that.

So I think if I had to guess — we haven't quite made this call yet — but we'll probably suggest that if you come into the office, it'll be required, but it's not required to be an employee of Prime, because we've got a great home accommodation.

Has Prime done anything to promote or encourage vaccination? Now that this pandemic is dragging on with Delta variant and so on, are you considering changing tactics or strategy in that realm as a healthcare entity that can influence people’s behavior?

Well, no, I don't think so. I think we've been pretty consistent. We moved boldly to get folks out of the office, March 1, of what, almost two years ago now. We move boldly to downsize our footprint and moved very significantly to support remote work.

I don't think COVID is ever going away. We're a changed society. We're never going to be out from under this thing. We have to reach equilibrium. Equilibrium in my mind will be, you get regular vaccinations if you want to work in the office. If you don't want to get vaccinated, you work from home. And I think there will be off and on mask wearing here and there depending on the cycles of infection.

But this thing is never gone away. Not in our lifetime. And we have to reach a point of moving beyond politics and the distress of the debate, to OK, now let's start working as a nation to make this something we can live with and reach a détente with this pandemic so that we can move forward. It's holding us back. As a nation, we are being held hostage in some ways by this pandemic and it is keeping us from progressing. I'm a fan — advocate — of moving into this equilibrium phase and making this work.

Making it work will forever be different than the way we've done in the past. We're never going back. We were so naive and and free and mobile before.

It’s almost like 911. Travel never went back to the old way … But get over the grieving. Accept it. Now let's embrace what that means and become the nation we can become. It's time.

What are you going to do with that 420,000-square-foot building (the Prime’s headquarters in the suburban Twin Cities)

We've cut our footprint in half.I'll be interesting to see. I think it's a little too early to make the call … If I had my way, we wouldn't have five years ago — whenever we struck that deal — we wouldn't have done it. I'm not a big fan of overhead. So it's a fairly expensive footprint that I don't think was necessary.

But that's water under the bridge. Now you make the most of it. It's possible we could sublease pieces of it. It's possible that the equilibrium reaches a point where we're using more of that [space}. I think we just have to take six months. Let's see how it goes.