The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has prompted health care providers on the frontlines of the crisis to ensure their staff has the necessary support to meet the needs of patients.

Rich Eakins, vice president at Guardian Pharmacy Services, said that along with following the guidelines from the CDC and CMS, every pharmacy within their network has their own disaster contingency plan so that they are supported in an emergency such as in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re in bricks and mortars, in locations close to these communities, so our business model is one that is customizable to each geography and down to each community that we service. Every geography has different state regulations and different levels of how this pandemic is affecting them now. [In] our model, every pharmacy has full autonomy to make their own decisions and react adequately, and there’s no red-tape involved of having to push it up the food chain. So, we’re a very nimble organization and can react quickly as these pandemics’ changes, with what seems like a minute to minute basis,” Eakins said to Pharmacy Times®.

Guardian Pharmacy Services partners with long-term care communities to create individualized pharmacy solutions to improve outcomes, ensure accurate billing, and to support their staff. It works by operating locally through their Partner Pharmacy teams, who have management autonomy, combined with a national base in Atlanta, Georgia.2

According to Eakins, Guardian Pharmacy Services’ sole mission is to focus on senior living. They employ pharmacists, certified pharmacy technicians, billing experts, nurse account managers, and service skilled nursing homes and behavioral health communities in 37 different pharmacy locations in 26 states.1

Because Guardian Pharmacy Services operates in multiple locations at any given time, the pharmacy company must be aware of changes surrounding boards of pharmacy regulations. Along with increased limitations on visitation for families and vendors, Eakins said that regulations involving pharmacy consultants, who are normally required on-site every 30 days in a nursing home for a medication review of the residence, are being relaxed to adhere to social distance guidelines.

“It’s a fluctuating thing right now. Before in a lot of states, you weren’t allowed to ship drugs across states, and now they’re relaxing things like that because of impending drug shortages and pharmacies being overwhelmed and that thing. It’s something we need to adapt day by day,” Eakins said.

Another consideration is adequate medical supplies within pharmacies, which Eakins said is definitely important for Guardian but is not something with which the company is currently struggling. Because of the Guardian’s size, they have buying relationships with 3 or more of the largest drug wholesalers in the country and have spent millions of dollars to make an adequate back up supplies in their pharmacies.

“We’re in adequate shape right now, especially from what we’ve been seeing everything out there and from our pharmacies, our deep distribution and the supply channel that we have access to, we feel that we are prepared there,” Eakins said.

An important element for communities such as those that Guardian serves is utilizing the preferred pharmacy method, which allows for safe and accurate multiple dispensing packages and med-passes. This keeps medication from passing between families or outside retailers to vulnerable populations. According to Eakins, pharmacies such as the partners of Guardian Pharmacy Services need not worry about patients and families moving in and out of their stores on a daily basis, thereby potentially exposing the pharmacy staff to a virus, because their pharmacies are closed-off to the public.

Additionally, these pharmacies can safely package OTC drugs and bring these to patients through delivery using electronic medical records (EMRs) to limit potential exposure as well. Only preferred pharmacies can communicate and integrate with these particular EMR systems, which limit the amount of manual work typically required in non-preferred pharmacy models and potential human error.

With fluctuating state regulations and consistently updating information, the COVID-19 pandemic can serve to radically change the environments in which a pharmacy operates. However, according to Eakins, Guardian is remaining flexible to react to any new needs that their pharmacies may have by keeping direct and reliable communication.

When asked about the importance of pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic, Eakins said that pharmacy professionals are on the frontlines every day, serving and protecting patients.

“All of our people are working around the clock, and the same thing with the senior living staff and in the assisted living homes. They’re on the frontlines too just like the doctors and nurses, and they’re taking care of the elderly population that is so vulnerable in this situation right now. They’re putting the needs of that population above their own needs and their families,” Eakins said.

Reference
  1. Interview with Pharmacy Times. Richard Eakins. March 26, 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020. Guardian Pharmacy Services. Who We Are. https://guardianpharmacy.net/who-we-are/. Accessed April 6, 2020.