Anthony Haskell served as a project manager for the Bristol Myers Squibb Devens cell therapy facility construction project and worked on-site daily through the pandemic.

We never left: Accounts from the essential workers at Bristol Myers Squibb 

Hear from members of the global Bristol Myers Squibb workforce who have remained on-site during the COVID-19 pandemic, what it was like and how the company made them feel safe to continue their work delivering for patients.

June 17, 2021

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n spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic drove companies to change the way they operate, communicate and keep their workforce safe. Bristol Myers Squibb responded and adapted and a large number of the workforce began a new way of working — virtually, from home. But many who were considered essential workers remained on-site during these uncertain times. Whether it was manufacturing medicines, working in the lab, or managing facilities, for the past year, roughly 30 percent of the company’s workforce came to work on-site.  

An important element of keeping our promise to patients, their families and our healthcare providers is to ensure that our supply chain continues to deliver our medicines without interruption. Here are accounts from a few of the workers who have been helping the company to keep this promise.

Masahiko Sugiura, operations floor manager, Aichi, Japan

Masahiko Sugiura, operations floor manager, Aichi, Japan

One of Masahiko Sugiura’s biggest fears as he worked on-site during the early days of the pandemic was that he could cause a chain reaction: “What if I get infected and then transfer it to my colleagues and what if that stops the packaging line operations, which might impact the production schedule and delay the product delivery?” he said, remembering his worries.  The Aichi manufacturing plant where he works focuses on primary and secondary packaging of the company’s products.

Soon, however, with COVID-19 workplace safety measures in place like sanitizing, mask wearing and testing, Sugiura felt more at ease. Still, things were very different.

“Opportunities to communicate were taken away by COVID-19,” he said. “You can’t have face-to-face meetings, you can’t have lunch with colleagues — eating alone is lonely.”

So Sugiura focused all his attention on his job on the packaging floor, and found inspiration in the passion of his colleagues as they worked together, yet apart.

 “I feel proud of all of my colleagues that we kept delivering the products with high quality to patients safely and stably, even in a pandemic,” he said.

Catarina Goncalves, senior specialist, Quality Assurance, Boudry, Switzerland

Catarina Goncalves, senior specialist, Quality Assurance, Boudry, Switzerland

March 16, 2020, was Catarina Goncalves’ first day as a new employee at Bristol Myers Squibb on the Quality Assurance Operations team. Eager to return to work after a one-year maternity leave with her newborn son, Goncalves that day also learned that, due to COVID, she and her colleagues would begin a new work schedule — every week, half the team would work on-site, and the other half from home and then switch.

“My team and I are responsible for doing all of the review and release of manufactured batches of the company’s medicines, and our processes include steps that must be done in person, like obtaining signatures and having a qualified person review and release the product to market,” she said. 

Because of the business-critical nature of this work, Goncalves and her team worked in shifts until May 2020, when every returned to site full time.

“For me, it was very good news, I was very motivated to work and our management always communicated with us and worked hard to ensure our safety,” she said. “I have never felt fear about workplace safety.”

Anthony Haskell, director of Global Capital Project Engineering

In early 2020, Bristol Myers Squibb began construction of a new 244,000-square-foot facility within the Devens campus to support clinical and commercial manufacturing of cell therapies. The Devens site supports process development, clinical manufacturing and commercial manufacturing for biologics medicines. Every day, in his then-role as associate director, project manager, Anthony Haskell was there.

“It was determined by the company and local/state regulations that the expansion project was essential,” said Haskell, who is now director of Global Capital Project Engineering. 

At the start of the pandemic, when so much about the virus was still unknown, being at work could be tense, Haskell explained. “But the Devens site did a great job with communications and keeping us up to date with what was going on and provided what we needed in terms of masks and testing.”

Videos telling the stories of some of the patients who have benefitted from the company’s medicines played on monitors throughout the site and helped keep spirits high, Haskell said. “That reminded my team why we were here, even though we knew it was going to be hard. Those patient stories really helped inspire everyone.”

The cell therapy facility is slated for occupancy in September, with engineering runs set to begin at the end of the year. Right on schedule.

Lewis Connolly, manager, Clinical Supply Logistics Network, Moreton, United Kingdom

Lewis Connolly, manager, Clinical Supply Logistics Network, Moreton, United Kingdom

For Lewis Connolly, going to work each day to what essentially felt like a ghost town took some getting used to. But despite the strange loneliness of the workplace, Connolly said his team never lost sight of the mission. Connolly works at the Moreton site, which focuses on R&D, including chemical & synthetic development, drug product science & technology, analytical strategy operations and clinical supply operations.

“I had no hesitation when asked to remain on-site and I strived daily to ensure our shipments to patients were never impacted,” he said. “Our patients always remained at the forefront of my mind — we could not just stop; they needed us more than ever and that is why we had to continue delivering for them.”