Across the province pharmacies have been battling front line issues of COVID-19, from lack of personal protective equipment to misinformed Albertans.
Pharmacies are considered an essential service and therefore are still open to their customers. However, with every person that comes in, the risk of community transmission to the pharmacy workers increases.
Wetaskiwin Family Pharmacy is starting to feel the affects of working daily with the public through a pandemic. The process to secure personal protective equipment (PPE) has been a slow process.
“Our days are generally stressful dealing with medication shortages, issues accessing physicians who may be on isolation, obtaining prescription renewals for patients, and trying to solve a variety of other problems,” says owner and pharmacist Michelle Reid at Wetaskiwin Family Pharmacy. “We are also now truly concerned about our health and wellbeing—yet we have no access to protective equipment.”
The staff is only able to wear the masks and gloves that were given to them by family members until shipments of PPE can come in. Unfortunately the three warehouses that Wetaskiwin Family Pharmacy typically orders from are sold out of all PPE and cleaning supplies with estimated availability ranging anywhere from late April with some products stating they are expected in October.
Orders placed with independent supply companies also state delayed shipping.
“I would say we feel a bit helpless, and a bit anxious as we are concerned about ourselves, and about others,” Reid says about her staff at Family Pharmacy. “Our customers are also wanting to protect themselves and we can’t offer them any protection either. We find ourselves in a very frustrating situation.”
Despite PPE shortages, Wetaskiwin Family Pharmacy has added more protective measures for the safety of their staff and customers.
“At Family Pharmacy we have installed plexiglass barriers, made lines on our floor to remind us to socially distance, thoroughly clean high-touch surfaces every hour and we are considering locking our doors to limit the amount of people in the Pharmacy,” says Reid. “Until we run out we will also be wearing masks. Hopefully these measures ensure our safety, so we can continue to provide essential frontline services.”
However protective measures and barriers don’t provide support for the strain that the pharmacy feels when it comes to new dispensing mandates and the spread of misinformation.
The Government has mandated that pharmacies across the country dispense for 30 days only instead of the usual three month fill. While it does make more work for Reid and her team in the long run, it is helping to extend current supplies.
“Our pharmacy is limited,” Reid says. Certain items are being shipped at very low volumes making the dispensing limits very important to ensure that all customers’ needs are met over this period. Reid elaborates, “for example, one inhaler is shipped to us per day, a maximum of three bottles of blood pressure pills per day, [and] two nitro sprays per day.”
In addition to this, the cut off times for next day ordering and the amount of times per week orders get shipped to us has also changed. The Family Pharmacy is now waiting for stock for three to seven days when is used to be one day.
When adapting to these new situations and regulations the lack of awareness from the public on proper PPE uses is also frustrating to the Wetaskiwin Family Pharmacy team.
From ripped gloves, gloves on one hand only, and improperly worn masks, Reid notices a lot of PPE misuse. “We are seeing very little actual protection,” she says.
Another issue the pharmacy faces as a result of lack of public awareness is customers coming in wanting prescriptions for toted coronavirus ‘miracle drugs.’ Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw has made public announcements warning against using antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarial medications as an over-the-counter cure for COVID-19. As of this time there is no approved drug or vaccine to battle the virus.
“We’ve seen it and had some discussions with patients about it,” says Reid. “It’s a natural instinct for all of us to try to protect ourselves any way we can, especially in a situation like this. However, we want the right medication to be available at the right time to the right patients, so it’s important we practice appropriately.”
For right now the best thing that the community and Wetaskiwin Family Pharmacy customers can do to help during this pandemic is to stay home. Reid encourages customers to phone in with concerns or questions and to limit time spent in the pharmacy.
Reid says, “Any time you are out in public you are risking your health, your family’s health and those who are on the front line serving you. Stay informed and follow the direction of those making the decisions right now and do your best to be healthy and safe!”