July 13, 2017 -- Pharmacist Gill Montgomery was one of thousands of evacuees who were displaced because of the B.C. wildfires. On Tuesday, she left her community pharmacy in 100 Mile House for the safety of Kamloops. After arriving, she was ready to volunteer her services.
“I’m here,” Montgomery said on Wednesday. “I might as well help patients in need.”
Montgomery joined dozens of other community pharmacists in Kamloops who have volunteered their time to help people displaced by the wildfires raging in B.C.’s interior. More than 14,000 people in British Columbia were under evacuation orders. As of July 13, a total of 183 wildfires were burning. Twenty-two of those were highly visible or which pose a potential threat to public safety.
Community pharmacists stepped up after the province declared a state of emergency on July 7. Working together, pharmacists in Kamloops worked together to staff the evacuation centre on Thompson Rivers University’s campus. Pharmacists each volunteered for shifts helping answer patients’ questions about medications, emergency refills and over-the-counter medications.
“I wanted to help in any way I could,” said Pharmacist Marcie Decker, of Shoppers Drug Mart #0261 in Kamloops, who was the first to volunteer. “The way I could help [patients] is making sure they could get their medications.”
Many individuals were coming in who had leave in a such a hurry they left their diabetes supplies at home or they were running low on their medications, but there was no way to get in to see their doctor, whose office was closed. One evacuated patient said she was worried about getting her cancer treatment that was being shipped to her home.
“Anxiety was running high,” Decker said. “We wanted to let them know they don’t need to worry about their medications. That was last thing they needed to worry about. We can get it for them.”
Local pharmacies donated over-the-counter medications, sunscreens, EpiPens, glucose metres, diabetes test strips, sharps containers and wound care supplies. Many were filling emergency prescriptions, especially for inhalers.
Mike Huitema with Shoppers Drug Mart #0277 in Kamloops stepped up to volunteer after receiving a call from Kamloops pharmacist and Board member Julie Ford.
“That’s why we become pharmacists – to help people,” Huitema said. “It really goes back to what we are as a profession.”
Huitema normally fills 200 prescriptions on a busy day. On Tuesday, he filled nearly double that amount. He and his team were filling emergency prescriptions, looking up patients’ medical histories. Many requests came in for inhalers because the air quality was so poor. While Huitema and others worked long hours at both their pharmacies and at the evacuation centre, they wouldn’t know any other way to operate.
“We’re there to help people,” he said. “That’s why we go to school. That’s how we get enjoyment out of our jobs. That’s who we are as people to become professional pharmacists.”