Appreciating pharmacists during COVID-19

Updated on June 18, 2020 (Originally posted on May 15, 2020)

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, the BC Pharmacy Association heard from many pharmacy teams about the innovative solutions they have developed to keep serving patients. Pharmacy, like virtually every sector, has been tremendously affected by the pandemic.

From ensuring Canadians have adequate access to medications to serving as a front-line health-care resource for the public, pharmacists have stepped up to do their part in COVID-19.

Here at the BC Pharmacy Association, we developed these videos to show off the many positive contributions pharmacists are making right now for their communities.

Deepa Topiwalla

We've had to significantly adapt the way that we work in the pharmacy. Our team has had to adapt and the pharmacy itself has been adapted to meet requirements in order to ensure the health and safety of not just the community and our patients but also ourselves and our families as well.

What are some obstacles you had to overcome?

At the pharmacy level we were trying to maintain our stock supply, we were trying to keep up with the ordering to ensure that we had sufficient stock. But this was a huge strain on the distribution supply and the wholesalers were not able to keep up with the huge demand. 

As a result of that, they had to ration out how much stock each pharmacy was getting. Even if we were ordering three months of medication for a patient perhaps, we would only get a one month supply in. Or if we were ordering three bottles of medication, we would only receive one. 

That rationing, that happened from the wholesalers to the pharmacy, had a domino effect. We basically had to ration out our supplies at the patient level. Where somebody was getting a three month supply before, we had to encourage them to perhaps get a one month supply to ensure another patient could also get a one month supply.

How did you accommodate your customers?

We already had a very good free delivery system set up for our patients. When this pandemic started, we extended those services, we increased our driver hours, resources, so we could deliver the maximum number of prescriptions to our patients so they didn't have to come to us. 

It is costly. It is a huge financial burden for people that own pharmacies, but we've taken that hit. Where possible, we encouraged deliveries so we could avoid patients having to leave their homes to pick up their medications from us. 

We want to be here for our patients. We want to take care of them and we want to ensure everybody comes out of this safe and healthy.

Carmen Troje

I'm a community pharmacist with Rexall and I've been serving in the Nanaimo area for about 10 years. I have noticed that business is not as usual since the COVID pandemic. With the request for social distancing, physicians are now making phone appointments. We are now seeing a lot more faxes and the physicians are phoning in prescriptions. 

Whereas before we had a lot of patients bringing in prescriptions and we kind of had an idea when they were coming and what they needed, now we're having to self-prioritize.

With that, the pharmacy team and the corporation of Rexall have done a great job of finding technical ways to sit there and streamline so we can find ways to provide safe and effective patient services.

We now have the capacity to have people email or scan in prescriptions and then we can text them when they're ready. The benefit of this is it's allowing people to have less time to be waiting in the pharmacy and to reduce their risk being exposed.

We also have a drive through. We've also been phoning people and going over their medications to make sure that their profiles are accurate should they need them at any time, as that is now what the physicians in the hospitals review them they come into emergency.

We're very thankful for the public to be following the words of Bonnie Henry and continuing to provide social distancing. It's allowing us to flatten the curve, which means we can go back to the normal practice of enjoying B.C.

Until that time, continue to social distance. Follow the instructions being made at the provincial level, and continue to be gracious and kind to all, as this is affecting everyone in the province and country.

We're all in this together. I'd like to say thank you for letting us serve you. We will continue to be here for whatever your needs are.

Thank you again, from the Rexall staff.

Dayle Larson

It was one of those things where you saw commercial products were on back order and one day turned into a week, turned into a month, turned into unknown availability. 

Some of our patients have severe chronic illnesses or developmental disabilities and their parents are their primary care takers, and they need this hand sanitizer. So they reached out to us.

We said we have extra bottles, we have the supplies, I'm sure we can find a formula. And we got it to them. 

From there, we had some of the doctors offices surrounding us contact us just looking for some for their staff, because they couldn't get any either. So we started making a little more. 

From there, I don't even know what happened but we reached out to our sister stores anticipating maybe sending 100 bottles up and down the island, but within 24 hours we had requests for over 1,000 bottles. We were a little floored. 

At first it was totally manageable. We were doing it in small quantities, some days we would make 200 bottles and other days 500 bottles. One day we got a call from head office, and they ordered in 20,000 bottles!

We just hit this point. Did that actually happen? It started slowly and it just exploded. We approached frontline responders, Victoria fire department, the Victoria police, the View Royal fire department, paramedics, veterinary offices, retail workers, food banks, we had sent a bunch to local farmers, care homes, a whole bunch to BC Transit. The next thing we knew, we looked at our numbers, oh my, we'd given away 3,000 bottles!

It was one of those things where as we were doing it, nobody really thought it was one of those big things. We had the ability to do it, so we did it. And it wasn't until after that we kind of realized the scale of what it was we actually did.

 

Cliff Power, Extreme Outreach Society: Whenever I needed hand sanitizer I would ask them and they would supply it, at no charge, even one day bringing over close to 50 bottles. Given that ample supply I was able to give some to even nurses that couldn't find any as well.

Steve Beck, Unit Chief, Mill Bay B.C. Emergency Health Services: I just want to give a shout out to Island Pharmacies for their donation of hand sanitizers. Nothing but thumbs up from all my staff!

Dwayne Doyle, Principal, Marigold Elementary: I'd like to say thank you very much to Island Pharmacy on Helmecken. They are donating bottles of hand sanitizer to our staff and to our school. I just want to say thank you to you.

George Cloete

Definitely feeling the pressure. We’re a busy pharmacy but the demand has almost doubled to tripled. Because we are open shorter hours now, everything goes from a 16 hour day to a 12 hour day. So the demand stays the same. You have to do all that work in a much more compressed time. Luckily, my team has absorbed the pressure a lot. One of the things we’re working very hard on is to manage the mental health of our staff, who are working long hours without a break.

Some staff are working 15 to 16 days in a row. For them to get home at 10 o’clock at night and be back at work at 6 in the morning, it’s tough for family. It’s tough for them. We work very hard in trying to make sure everybody has an avenue to look after their mental health, and we do check-ins as well.

What are pharmacies doing to ensure staff are protected while they work?

Everybody here has got a family and kids and spouses and are stressed not only about working, but about their health as well. We have sufficient masks now and gloves, hand sanitizer, wipes, all of that, so my staff can feel safe at their job.

What you see here is the combination of a lot of people working very hard to make this happen. It looks like it happened overnight, but this has been weeks ongoing.

How have pharmacies met the increased demand for medications during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Pharmacists are the only profession where you can walk in and see the pharmacist immediately. We explain to our customers that medication supply lines are shorted. We order 72 of something and get in two. So what we’re doing is we’re obviously restricting people for their quantities. This is appropriate for the current situation. We just want to make sure everybody gets enough medication to last them. We’re surely going to make it as comfortable for everybody as possible.

 

Christine Cheng

People need these medications. People need us to be here. But there are moments; sometimes when you have that patient that calls and says “I’ve been told to self-isolate,” but they need their meds, so we have to run it out to the curb for them. And we kind of look at each other, who wants to take this one?

These masks only give us so much protection. What if I am encountering someone who is asymptomatic and then I become an asymptomatic carrier and then I bring it home? I don’t know.

I think one thing we are doing that a lot of people are appreciative of, is we have implemented delivery service. This is something we had looked at but it’s expensive to get them out. It’s going out to you. We are absorbing that cost.

My kids are trained, you don’t touch mommy until she’s gone through the shower. And my husband says to me, “I don’t want you getting sick, you should consider resigning.” And I looked at him. Are you kidding me? No!

How has the pandemic affected the pharmacy’s patients?

We do have a really nice, understanding, group of patients. Everybody wants that three-month supply, but there are so many factors that go into the decision to encourage people to limit their supplies to 30 days at a time. A) We can’t always do it because we’re being limited on what we can order in from distributors. B) It’s also just that feeling of, let’s take care of the whole community. Let’s make sure everybody has the medications they need, not just one person for three months, but three people for at least a whole month.

How has the pandemic affected pharmacies financially?

It’s still a business. We rely a lot on the business on the other side of the counter to keep us going. Without the foot traffic, that goes. I have reduced my own hours because I know some of my staff need the paycheque more than me. It doesn’t matter. I’m still available. I don’t care I’m not getting paid, people need their meds. Especially because we do a lot of pain medication compounding, people need that stuff.

The staff have been great. We want to keep the team together so a lot of them have agreed to use their vacation time to go nowhere. If we don’t go to work, we’re not here, and you don’t get your meds. The idea is, we get through this together as a unit, and nobody has to lose their job. That’s our goal.

Christine Cheng is a member of the BC Pharmacy Association and a pharmacist at Cloverdale Pharmasave