Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Pfizer was criticized for ‘unduly delaying’ treatment for cancer specialists. Here’s why.

Pfizer’s human resources department developed a plan to hire employees who had cancer, to improve job security and to make their workplace more appealing to them. The company said it found similar innovative methods at other companies, and decided to create a “central human resources hub” to support its growing work force.

However, the plan was criticized by the advisory panel set up to provide input on the program, known as the “planned social action program.” The program was to recommend paid leave for doctors’ appointments and pay to help burn out employees, which should be covered by workers’ compensation, the panel warned.

A review of Pfizer’s plan by an outside consultant found that it went beyond what the expert panel was recommending. In March, the firm, CambriaHR, recommended that Pfizer hire more health-care workers who had been diagnosed with cancer — such as doctors or cancer nurses — who were less likely to work more than 60 hours a week, have poor job performance or have prior illness.

By that time, four of the 11 invited panel members had declined invitations to participate, according to a report by Pfizer lawyers. Each panel member gets about $1,000 a year.

The Pfizer report revealed that Kathleen Hauser, then-Administrator of Human Resources, rejected the panel’s advice on seven occasions over a three-year period.

The experts advised that “voluntary paid time off should be offered only to health care professionals whose clinical responsibilities include establishing PSA [prostate specific antigen] testing protocols.” They also suggested that the company buy caregivers or patients equipment and resources, and “will continue to apply for opportunities to employ disease social workers and psychologists who have experience in breast cancer treatment.”

Hauser responded that the expert panel never recommended health care workers do work that would impact their lives. As a result, she said, “We are attempting to increase opportunities for health care professionals who have PSA research activities but may also be included in paid time off guidelines.”

The issue dates back to 2011, when the advisory panel was asked to look at all workplace plans for works in occupational health, such as occupational health programs. Pfizer’s WSOB would have increased the opportunity for medically sanctioned leave for cancer specialists, but the specialists’ recommendations went to the Kaiser Family Foundation and were not posted online until two months after the WSOB’s advisory panel meetings.

Kaiser said that at the time, the Foundation thought it was the group that made the recommendation.

Margo Welling, the senior vice president and general counsel at Pfizer, said that the Pfizer issue “was brought to my attention when it was brought to the surface in 2012 and I acted swiftly to address it.”

The Cancer Support Community, another group working to help cancer patients, said in a letter that Pfizer is “pushing medical research into the practice rooms of physicians and researchers who decide whether or not to treat it.” The letter noted that numerous drug companies give their scientists who develop new cancer medicines and drugs to experts on their work.

By the time Pfizer hired CambriaHR in 2011, the group had identified a need for some generic cancer specialists who would make it easier for patients to take drugs, especially ones that were difficult to take. But Pfizer argued that WSOB meetings, which usually lasted six to eight hours, were too long.

An executive at Pfizer who attended some of the meetings described them as “brick walls,” “frozen in time,” and an “epidemic.”

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