Arizona Pharmacy Finds Creative Ways to Protect Employees Amid COVID-19

Jason Dykstra, PharmD, the owner of Chino Valley Pharmacy, shares his tips for getting through the pandemic.

“The commitment to patient care can only be kept if a pharmacy also finds effective ways to protect the people who provide that care,” said Jason Dykstra, PharmD, the owner of Chino Valley Pharmacy in Arizona.

The independent pharmacy owner is taking his own advice to heart, finding several creative ways to help protect his staff members while serving patients.

Dykstra’s first piece of advice is both most effective and simplest.

“My team and I wash our hands -- a lot, and we have implemented a process of thoroughly cleaning the pharmacy on an hourly basis,” he said.

In addition, the pharmacy checks each team member’s temperature when they arrive at work.

Unlike many independent pharmacies Dykstra has not yet adopted a closed-door policy, as he still wants to allow patients to walk into the pharmacy, talk with him or another staff member, and maintain the feeling of care and concern that has made Chino Valley Pharmacy successful.

“After all, providing good health care extends beyond the process of filling prescriptions, he said.

However, Dykstra said that keeping the doors open may change if the situation in the pharmacy’s rural community changes, but for now he thinks a “moderate and common-sense approach” is best.

The pharmacy does limit the number of people in the pharmacy to no more than 5 at a time, via temporary signs placed at eye level on the front door. The signs also ask that customers maintain social distance while inside the pharmacy. Dykstra has taped large blue “X”s on the floor showing customers the preferred distance when standing in line to drop off or pick up or a prescription.

To help keep staff members safe, the pharmacy is aggressively promoting the drive-up window. The pharmacy is very busy, often filling 600 or more scripts per day. So, to help keep up with the increased number of cars in line at the window the staff members use walkie-talkies. This allows a team member to approach cars in line and while staying a safe distance away talk with the person in the car to find out what they want. Then the staff member communicates the patient’s needs via the walkie-talkie to team members in the pharmacy who can start working on filling prescriptions.

Dykstra said that this approach not only speeds up service but also helps with customer service, as patients can see that they are being taken care of, even if the wait is a bit longer.

Meanwhile, the mental health and morale of the pharmacy team are of paramount concern. Staff education and developing a sense of teamwork is critical to maintaining a productive work environment.

Since opening the pharmacy in the summer of 2017, Dykstra has instituted a number of well-entrenched policies and procedures that he said are proving useful during this crisis.

The procedures, which he said seem to make dealing with this new and unusual situation a bit less stressful, include how to treat customers with respect and go above and beyond to ensure that patients understand and take their medications properly.

In addition, Dykstra said that by paying attention to the media and working closely with his 2 major suppliers, Associated Pharmacies Inc and Cardinal Health, the pharmacy has not faced drug shortages and has been able to fill prescriptions for patients.

This includes those appropriately taking chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, and other drugs in high demand, because of reports of their possible application in treating COVID 19, he said.

Dykstra’s biggest piece of advice to other pharmacy owners is to pay close attention to local and national media reports, as well as social media, as doing so will provide a sense of what patients are hearing.

Pharmacists should then filter all this through a sense of what they know as health care professionals and strive to find a balanced approach to caring for the community, patients, staff members, and themselves through common sense and planning ahead.

Bruce Kneeland is a community pharmacy specialist.