Pharmacists who had gone above and beyond in the 2019-20 bushfires received a visit – and a citation – from an unexpected guest
David Heffernan, president of the NSW branch of the Pharmacy Guild, told the AJP that all year, he had hoped for the opportunity to thank four pharmacists – and their teams – who had gone all out to help their patients, and new patients, during the fires.
“Many people were affected in the bushfires and we wanted to acknowledge their efforts during it,” he said, explaining why the Guild decided to award Presidential Citations to Tim Rudd, Danielle Campbell, Linda Badewitz-Dodd and Jeff Soo.
“It’s been a really hard year. And while many of them felt like they were ultimately just doing their job, I think it’s prudent to acknowledge their efforts and their work in something that was quite a stressful occasion.
“We had pharmacists ringing me, we’d say, ‘what do you need?’ and they’d say they needed power and supplies… we had helicopters doing drug deliveries. In the photo of Tim, he’s in front of the jetty where he was giving medicines to people on jet skis to deliver.”
Mr Heffernan went to the four pharmacies to surprise the recipients with their citations.
As well as the four pharmacists who received citations from the Guild, Mr Heffernan also praised the efforts of Andrew Topp, from Capital Chemist in Canberra.
The four pharmacists told AJP their stories…
Tim Rudd, Capital Chemist Ulladulla
“Even though bushfires were all round our town, we had to do our best to keep trading throughout the period. In Ulladulla, I don’t think we saw blue sky for a couple of months.
“A couple of the satellite communities were cut off, one being Manyana. So we were sending medicines to them on boats and jet skis: we lined up people to go out and deliver them, and keep the medicines supply going to people.
“It’s a small town but there were lots of people there – tourists, so it was quite full at the time.
“Luckily, there happened to be a doctor holidaying out there. So I was on the phone to him a lot. He’d send scripts in the boat, and we’d pick it up and send the medicines back out.
“A lot we didn’t get paid for, but we didn’t care – it was the right thing to do.
“So we feel really quite proud of what we did, and it’s very nice that the NSW Guild president came down and took me off to lunch and gave me a president’s citation award!
“If it happened again, we’d do it all over again.”
Linda Badewitz-Dodd, Dodd and Dwyer Pharmacy Merimbula
“I’m embarrassed [to be honoured], because everybody did everything that they would normally do – that’s what pharmacists do, we care about the community as much as we can.
“In all pharmacies, in all communities, you’re there all the time; you’ve got to stay open, be available to calm people’s fears and help them mentally, as well as with getting their medications and reassuring them we’ll get through it.
“I don’t think that’s any more than any other pharmacist would have done in the circumstances. You don’t know how strong or capable you are until you’re tested.
“My business partner, Tania, and our whole team did everything that we could – and I also relied on another pharmacist, Andrew Topp at Capital Chemist in Canberra. When drugs couldn’t get through, one of our local GPs managed to catch up with Andrew to bring medicines from Canberra to us.
“I was sending my daughter to the hospital to get masks, as they had some there – ‘you’re on your way to work? Divert to the hospital to see if they have any Ventolin and can they lend us some!’ And the community responded amazingly.
“I was using a whole lot of contacts that I’ve had over years in pharmacy! They helped us to get supplies in. So it’s embarrassing that [this award] has my name on it – it should be for everyone in the pharmacy, and every other pharmacist who was in the same situation as us.
“You do what you do, because it’s just instinctive, because we’re pharmacists and we care.”
Danielle Campbell, Narooma Pharmacy
“We had a lot of evacuees from surrounding tourist spots and also Cobargo, so flooding into Narooma were people from those areas, where towns had been wiped out and there was imminent threat of bushfire in the national park campgrounds. That happened in the early hours of New Year’s Eve.
“On New Year’s Eve – potentially one of the biggest days of trade for the year – myself and staff arrived to work, having heard about what had happened a few hours beforehand, and there was crowds of people outside… people walking down the street leading farm animals.
“You knew it wasn’t going to be a usual New Year’s Eve.
“We were able to trade for 20 minutes before we lost power and the sky was getting really quite dark.
“A few of my staff live in rural properties, so they went home to get prepared, while some others and myself made the decision to touch base with the evacuation centre in Narooma.
“For the next four or five days, we had almost a pop-up pharmacy in that evacuation centre. We were without power a couple of days – and people were told to go to the centre and leave everything, so that evacuation centre was where we operated for the next few days.
“Myself and my staff were basically volunteering. Some of my staff were helping out in the kitchen! They triaged some people; and we had a local GP working for us in that evacuation centre. She was writing scripts and we dispensed them as best we could at the pharmacy, then delivered them back to the centre.
“It was very busy; we had days where we could trade in the pharmacy with power, and other days where we couldn’t.
“I couldn’t have done it without my staff volunteering, and probably not without the help and coordination from the local GPs. So it all worked quite well for us in Narooma!
“When you do these sorts of things, you never expect any recognition… you just get in and do it. It’s nice to be appreciated by the profession for sure – but I think there’s probably a lot of unsung heroes from that time.”
Jeff Soo, Beachside Pharmacy Ulladulla
“One key date was New Year’s Eve, there was severe hot weather conditions that day and extreme fire warnings. That day there was a black out at 1.30pm but we kept trading in the dark hoping the power would come back on which it did half an hour later. However, the power returned only for half an hour and then the power went off again and stayed blacked out until midday the next day, New Year’s Day.
“There were still many people in the pharmacy, so we continued to serve them in the pitch dark because many were stranded in the area with no medications, some people were homeless since their homes had burnt down. The back counter was lined up with people in the dark where we could not even see their faces.
“Just as I was about to leave the pharmacy I received a phone call from a paramedic at Lake Conjola desperate for some insulin, Novorapid Flexpens. He was surprised that I was in the shop since he had tried to call all the other pharmacies but no one had answered. I dispensed an emergency supply for that patient even though they were not a customer at the shop. I met an off-duty paramedic at the back of the shop and stayed back at work a further 20 minutes.
“Inside the Evacuation Centre every space was filled with displaced people on portable bunk beds, there were people of all ages in there plus animals. So, we walked to Beachside Pharmacy and collected toothbrushes, toothpaste, wipes, tissues, soaps, and creams. I took back four full bags of toiletries and supplies to the Centre as a donation. I had also grabbed some Paracetamol tablets and antihistamines to donate too. When I went back to the Evacuation Centre, I handed the toiletries to the Red Cross and then they told me to give the medicines to the Paramedic that had his own station. Whilst talking to him I asked him if he needed anything else. He mentioned kids Panadol, Kids antihistamines, Ventolin, and cough mixtures. So, I and my daughter walked back to the pharmacy to provide them these items as a donation.
“[The next day] We operated the pharmacy in the dark with the intention of only opening for 1.5 hours but people kept streaming in wanting Ventolin, emergency scripts, front of shop items etc. We kept adding hours on to trade until we finally decided to close the shop at 5pm. All the while trading understaffed for 4.5 hours. After closing the store, I decided to go straight to the Evacuation Centre to see if they needed anything… The paramedic I met there was incredibly grateful for my assistance at the Centre and shook my hand before handing me two scripts (one was for insulin). I went back to the shop and dispensed those items
“Beachside Pharmacy eventually would donate over $600 of goods plus possible shortfall in recuperating cost of emergency medicines for patients. Nothing particularly heroic was done but simply going out of the way and being available for the community and trying to help.”