Pills are divided up on a counting tray at Miller Drug in Bangor in this BDN file photo. The pharmacy had to cut 19 jobs in the aftermath of a failed 2016 contract. Credit: Gabor Degre

Longtime Bangor-based pharmacy Miller Drug, since 2010 an affiliate of Brewer-based Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, eliminated 19 full- and part-time positions this week in the aftermath of a failed business contract. The company generally employs about 100 full-time workers, including pharmacists, technologists and delivery staff.

Vincent Mainella, chief operating officer of Miller Drug, said Thursday that the decision to reduce staff came after months of trying to meet the terms of a multimillion-dollar contract with First Atlantic HealthCare, signed in November of 2016.

First Atlantic is a Maine-based company that manages more than 20 nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the state, according to its website. Although Miller Drug has long been in the business of providing individually packaged medications and medical supplies to nursing homes in the Bangor area, the contract with First Atlantic represented a major change.

“It doubled the size of our business overnight,” Mainella said. “We knew we couldn’t handle it with our current facility or our current staffing.”

Miller Drug invested in about $6 million in new equipment, including robotic dispensing machinery, and added $1.2 million to its payroll in additional staffing, Mainella said. In March of 2017, Miller Drug opened a centralized filling facility in Brewer.

But troubles developed with the new equipment, purchased from the California vendor High Volume Solutions. Declining to be more specific, Mainella said, “Automation to support long-term care wasn’t fully developed and there were issues that delayed full implementation.”

Despite ramping up staff and expanding hours of operation, Mainella said, it just wasn’t possible to package large volumes of medications for nursing homes without a fully functioning automated system.

“Finally we made the decision to walk away from the [First Atlantic] contract,” he said, adding that relations were “friendly” and there were “no hard feelings” over Miller Drug’s inability to fulfill the contract. He said Miller Drug and EMHS are in talks with the vendor to “make things right.”

High Volume Solutions did not immediately respond to a call and email seeking comment. Phones at First Atlantic HealthCare did not appear to be working on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the sudden reduction in business necessitated the elimination of staff, Mainella said. The announcement didn’t come as a surprise, he said, as employees were well aware of the strain the company has been under.

“I personally met with each employee yesterday,” he said. “They all said they were just waiting for this announcement.”

Among the 19 employees whose positions were eliminated this week as a result of the loss of the First Atlantic business contract were several pharmacists, as well as technologists, delivery staff and others. Mainella said he expects several will be offered jobs in other Miller Drug locations or within the EMHS organization.

Mainella said Miller Drug is in other aspects stable, with five locations statewide, a busy mail order business, several nursing home clients and an expanding role as a clinical partner in EMHS specialty services.

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Meg Haskell

Meg Haskell is a curious second-career journalist with two grown sons, a background in health care and a penchant for new experiences. She lives in Stockton Springs. Email her at mhaskell@bangordailynews.com.