Pharmacists lend a hand across the waters

As those affected by the NSW floods enter the cleanup phase, we speak to one pharmacist who helped pack emergency medications… despite being stranded herself

During this week’s flooding in NSW, pharmacist Lizzy Gripper found herself stranded and unable to cross the Hawkesbury River to get home.

Instead, she joined her team at the local Blooms The Chemist Windsor to pack up essential medication for residents at the Ron Middleton Nursing Home, which was urgently needed across the river – and taken over by helicopter.

 “There were quite a few logistical hurdles,” she said on Thursday.

“We are short staffed at the moment with quite a few staff members stuck on the other side of the river. It was all hands-on deck packing the medication. There was also lots of back and forth with helicopters.

“Yesterday we had a member of the community lend his private helicopter and his time to help us get the medication across the river, and today we’re working with him again and also the SES to do more trips.

“This is a really difficult time for the local community,” Ms Gripper told the AJP.

“Everything was happening very quickly so there wasn’t too much time to reflect in the moment about what was going on. We were all really focused on the task at hand and getting the medication out to those in need as quickly as possible.”  

If the pharmacists had waited until the flooding subsided, it was estimated that they would not be able to drive to the home for at least a week – too long for the patients to wait.

Up to 80 residents were dependent on the flight, including one man whose Parkinson’s medication needed to be packed and shipped within an hour, to maintain its integrity.

Working with other community organisations, the Blooms team got to work “without any hesitation,” said Ms Gripper.

She said that all team members came together quickly “to help out and do what needed to be done to support our local community in a time of need”.

“Whether it was our pharmacists, our pharmacy assistants or our delivery staff, we all came together to overcome any challenge and logistical hurdle,” she said.

“It really demonstrated our sense of community-first spirit. 

“It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling to be a part of something as important as this and do our part to help the local community.”

She said the whole team is “grateful that we can take care of our community in a deep crisis and moment of need, and help some of the most vulnerable people at such a difficult time”.

Pharmacy Guild of Australia NSW branch president David Heffernan confirmed to the AJP that no pharmacists had reported pharmacies actually being flooded themselves.

However, pharmacists were among the health professionals utilised by NSW Health when providing additional healthcare support to communities which were isolated, or at risk of flooding, as part of the state’s emergency response.

Acting Deputy Secretary Deborah Willcox said that overall, patient services in flood-affected areas had been maintained, despite some disruptions due to the floods.

“NSW Health has been working collaboratively with emergency services and other agencies to ensure residents are able to safely access public hospitals and health services,” Ms Willcox said.

NSW Health staff including nurses, mental health support, pharmacists and public health staff were deployed to evacuation centres to assist impacted communities, she said.

As the affected communities enter their clean-up phase, NSW Health also issued advice about the environmental risks people face after flooding, particularly as floodwater can be contaminated with sewage and chemicals.

“Many parts of NSW have been badly affected by flooding and some people are beginning to return home. Though this will be a distressing and difficult experience, we want to remind people of the need to be safe when cleaning up their home to protect their health,” said Acting Director of Environmental Health, Dr Adi Vyas.

Dr Vyas said it was critical that people cleaning up after flood damage always wear protective gear, including gloves and face masks, as well as covered shoes and full-length clothing. People must also wash their hands thoroughly after cleaning.

“Start drying out your property when safe – remove carpets, mattresses and other wet furniture; check behind fridges and cupboards and wall and floor cavities as mould or mildew can develop,” Dr Vyas said.

Dr Vyas said people returning home should also be mindful about their drinking water, and not to swim in floodwater.

“Floodwater can be extremely polluted and contaminated with sewage and chemicals. Contact can lead to skin and stomach infections and other rare, but serious conditions, such as leptospirosis,” he said.

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