Community Pharmacies in COVID-19 Hotspot Continue to Serve Patients

Independent community pharmacy owners in New York City discuss what it’s like to operate a pharmacy and support patients in one of the largest coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) hot spots in the country.

As members of the Good Neighbor Pharmacy network of independent community pharmacies, Chris Bassolino, owner of 90th Street Pharmacy in New York City, and Al Gentile, owner of St. George Pharmacy in Staten Island, are trusted fixtures of their communities. They recently spoke with Pharmacy Times® about what it’s like to operate a pharmacy and support patients in one of the largest coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) hot spots in the country.

How did you prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic to hit New York? What adjustments did you make to your store operations?

Bassolino: Once the coronavirus reality hit the United States, we moved quickly to ensure our store was ready. Early on, we shifted to a fully “closed-door” operation to reduce the spread of the virus. We evolved our entire business model to service customers solely through deliveries and drop-offs.

Our delivery staff goes the extra mile—literally—traversing the Upper East Side and into other parts of Manhattan to ensure all of our patients can maintain access to their medications while following guidelines to stay at home. We’re also prioritizing social media to share important information with our community, such as business updates, CDC guidelines, and what to do if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Now more than ever, we’re committed to living up to our tradition as an old-style pharmacy where service is king.

Gentile: Our pharmacy is no stranger to mobilizing and adapting in challenging times. We’re located just a few blocks from Staten Island’s Ferry Terminal to Manhattan, so we were on the frontlines during 9/11 when our community lost nearly 300 members.

We also decided to keep our store open during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. In addition to serving our patients, we were providing first-aid supplies to triage locations and supplying community members with batteries, flashlights and appropriate medication.

Those experiences helped prepare us for the situation we are now facing with COVID-19. While our store is still open, we were able to quickly accommodate curbside pickup and home deliveries of not only prescriptions, but also basic household supplies and over-the-counter products, such as vitamins, personal care items, and first aid.

What safety measures have you put in place to protect/support pharmacy staff?

Bassolino: As I mentioned, our first step was to begin operating as a closed-door store to limit our staff’s direct contact with patients. This is important since we have been in the eye of the storm here on Manhattan.

Within our store, we’ve implemented rigorous cleaning protocols and are sanitizing surfaces constantly throughout the day. Good Neighbor Pharmacy (GNP) is also instrumental in ensuring our staff and the patients we serve are protected.

Through the My GNP mobile app, patients can log in 24/7 to refill their prescriptions electronically, which, in turn, has helped reduce incoming call volume so our staff can focus on filling orders as quickly as possible and getting them to patients.

Gentile: Pharmacists are highly trusted resources for members of our community, which is why it’s so important that we take every step we can to prioritize their wellbeing during this tense time. We are taking the proper precautions to protect our staff and patients so we can remain open and available.

This includes offering alternatives for in-store pick-up, limiting the amount of people we physically have in the store, enhanced cleaning, and sanitizing of high-traffic areas and adherence to guidelines for social distancing and protective face coverings.

How are you balancing supply at this time? How are you working with partners to support your inventory?

Gentile: Open communication with our wholesaler has been key. They are working hard every day to ensure patients have access to and receive the medicines that they need.

We’re keeping our wholesaler abreast of the products we are seeing in high demand so they can work to raise inventory at the distribution level. We’re also staying in regular contact with doctors and providers.

We are all shifting how we operate and interact with patients today, so it’s important that we remain transparent about the supply challenges we’re experiencing so we can mitigate them together. Unlike any time before, every single part of the health care continuum needs to be in sync, our patient’s health and wellbeing require it.

Bassolino: We’ve been talking to doctors regularly, educating them on supply realities right now, and communicating that many potential treatments are still needed by patients to manage their conditions. We need to make sure that these therapies are getting to patients that need them and not sitting in someone’s medicine cabinet just in case.

We need to find a balance. It’s been a team effort between doctors, pharmacists, and wholesalers to ensure patients are getting what they need.

How are you ensuring that patients with chronic and complex conditions can continue accessing the products they need?

Bassolino: In addition to ensuring that patients with chronic and complex conditions can get their medications delivered right to their doors, we’ve also been accommodating requests for longer script durations wherever possible and appropriate. These patients are the most vulnerable, so we want them to know they can count on us.

Gentile: We’ve been serving complex and chronic condition patients through home deliveries so they can stay home and reduce their risk of exposure. We’ve also implemented call campaigns to communicate with high-risk patients during this time. Through these outbound calls, we can remind patients to remain adherent and give them tips to stay healthy.

What concerns do you have as a small business on COVID-19’s impact?

Bassolino: This is definitely a challenging time for individuals and small businesses alike, but we’ve been through tough times before and our community is incredibly resilient. Patients are looking to us to serve in an increased role during this pandemic and we’re here to answer their questions and be a source of information that they can trust.

Gentile: We have always stayed open despite upheaval, and we think it’s important to show our community that we’re there for them, particularly in this time of great need. Good Neighbor Pharmacy has been supportive in providing educational resources to help customers navigate the CARES Act and access SBA loans, as well as tools to assist pharmacies as they manage higher patient volumes.

Staten Islanders who typically work in Manhattan are now staying on the island and working remotely, so we’re seeing more patients than ever before. While this has been challenging, it’s all the more critical that we’re there to support them.

Just like other difficult events in the past, it’s a reminder that we’ll get through this, and we’ll get through it together.