I am sitting here with concerned and uncomfortable feelings… Stronger than these intense emotions, is the huge sense of responsibility I feel, writes Jennifer Kirschner
From my home desk today, I am working literally around the clock to try and ease the burden on the hundreds of pharmacists that I normally support with health programs.
I can practice hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and infection control measures from the pseudo safety of my home. I feel like I am doing the little things I can control to support my 2 young children and my husband. Having said this, my family is getting very little of my attention or emotional nurturing at the time as I am completely focused on this cause.
From a different position and perspective, I was standing in the pharmacy last weekend working as a retail community pharmacist having been called in to work because of the sudden chaos. It was here that I was really confronted with the current challenges facing the pharmacy community. Outside of the stock issues, and script busyness due to stockpiling, were the frustrated, disgruntled and scared customers.
In addition, were the stresses of trying to implement unfamiliar infection control procedures between scripts, answering relentless phone calls and efforts to arrange posters to deter patients with symptoms of COVID-19 from coming directly into the store. I was serving customers with a mind totally distracted and hijacked by the unfathomable idea of pharmacy closure if pharmacy staff were to get sick. Who would arrange and deliver medications to the nursing home facilities? Who would care for and support patients on the opioid substitution program?
I was also scared at work. The biggest thing that struck me was the extent to which pharmacists are being exposed to the virus with little or no protection. I was in disbelief that we, unlike some doctors and other health professionals, are not closing our doors with the option of serving our community through the safety of telehealth consults. We are literally standing face to face with customers trying to triage high-risk customers who were entering the pharmacy.
We do not have readily available access to PPE (personal protective equipment). There is even a shortage of hand sanitiser meaning the basics of hand hygiene are difficult to implement in many cases. As well as this pharmacists see much higher foot traffic than other health professionals, making social distancing very difficult. I stood in the pharmacy and abrasively understood the high-risk nature of being a pharmacist right now.
And then I look across and I see my dad, a fellow practising pharmacist and pharmacy owner. My heart hurts deeply now. Like all pharmacists, he is working endlessly to support his community. My dad fits into a higher risk and vulnerable category by virtue of his age. I want him to protect himself and reduce his exposure to this high-risk environment and yet he his doors are open 9am-9pm during the week and 9am-1pm on the weekend. He is serving customers, supporting his staff, delivery to nursing homes and on and on and on. This pains me further as I contrast it to Greg Hunt’s recent expansion of telehealth items to vulnerable GPs who can now use telehealth for all consultations with all their patients amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
I feel a huge sense of responsibility to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on my dad and other vulnerable pharmacists working out there on the frontline… I now work solely to help them and their communities stay healthy. I ask that you imagine for one minute yourself in the pharmacy right now (close your eyes and picture yourself there), standing face to face with a customer who says they just have a little bit of a cough. What would this feel like for you personally if this was happening daily, over weeks and maybe even months?
Please think about your community pharmacy and each pharmacy member working in this higher risk environment. Think about their families too. I am urging the government to provide pharmacists and pharmacy staff with personal protective equipment to keep them and their customers safe as a matter of urgency.
We need hand sanitiser, gloves, masks and goggles as a minimum – this also sends a signal to our customers that we take this seriously. We need this provided by the Government so we don’t waste precious time trying to source these supplies from online retailers who may or may not deliver them.
We also need full PPE not if, but when, we are faced with a suspected case of COVID-19.
We need to protect our pharmacists because in many cases, there is no one else in their town or their area that can service their customers – the elderly, the vulnerable, the nursing homes, the methadone patient and many more.
Thank you for finding the time to listen to me today.
This letter was originally written on 19/3/20 and republished with the permission of the author.