How the pandemic has tested pharmacy and shown its strengths
An old proverb states, “May you live in interesting times.” Well, here we are.
At the end of January of this new year, I was unfamiliar with the phrases “shelter in place,” “social distancing” or “flattening the curve” in terms of disease control, nor for that matter even paid much attention to a disease called COVID-19.
Two months later, we closed our front doors to the public and, for the first time in our 40-year history, operated entirely out of the drive-thru window and delivery service.
As I write this now, having adapted to the “new normal,” I am humbled and amazed at how well the pharmacy and this community were able to cope with a situation so foreign to all of us.
I believe a lot of our success was based on how we approached what has been our biggest challenge in the history of this pharmacy.
Inside the Pharmacy
The first rule at hand was to keep our pharmacy and community families as safe as possible as we manned the drive-thru window, restocked shelves and delivered medications throughout the community.
Handwashing, alcohol gel and counter cleaning protocols were strictly followed with employees who could call each other out to follow these new habits as needed, and we continually wiped down any customer-used devices, such as pens, clipboards and counter areas that touched any articles from the outside. We also kept multiple disinfectant spray bottles at the ready to wipe down outside delivery containers from wholesalers, as well as Amazon, FedEx and UPS.
The pharmacy created our own form of social distancing that allowed for as much space apart as practical, understanding that perfect would not stand in the way of good. Meanwhile, we went over the top in the frequency of cleaning commonly touched objects in the store, going beyond the prescription counters to bathroom and conference room faucets and tables, copiers, swinging doors, door handles, etc.
In addition to requiring techs and pharmacists to wear latex gloves and masks when interacting with customers, we also are encouraging all staff members to remain home if they are feeling sick.
Outside the Pharmacy
The power of social media at times like this cannot be overstated. I was overwhelmed at how effective a “Letter to Our Valued Customers” on our webpage the weekend before closing our doors could be. It allowed us to preemptively diminish the concerns from customers, while explaining the new procedures put in place. Instructions for dropping off and picking up prescriptions, as well as receiving deliveries were explained. This saved an immense amount of time in the week that followed. It also gave us a chance to remind our customers that we still carried a large supply of over-the-counter items (that they may have been purchasing elsewhere) that were available with our delivery service, as well.
We also made sure to address the mental toll that this pandemic could take on our staff. The daily strain of dealing with people who struggle with childcare, loss of jobs and retirement savings combined with the inability to get even the most basic supplies, such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer, could not be overlooked.
Our team made a commitment that our pharmacy would be the go-to source for COVID-19 for our customers. That our pharmacists would keep up with pandemic updates on a daily basis and help our customers avoid the infodemic of false statements and myths that already were developing. We would rely on sites from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization for our information.
After all the preparation and planning, opening week went remarkably well. Monday was our busiest day in some time, and though the lines became longer than normal, the day came off with only the normal amount of busy day hiccups.
I know that in this war on the coronavirus, we are now only at the end of the beginning. But I also know beyond the shadow of a doubt that we will get through it and come out even stronger on the other side. Not only just our pharmacy, but those that we serve in our community, as well.
Jerry Meece is the director of clinical services at Plaza Pharmacy and Wellness Center.