Midwest Pharmacists Brave the Cold to Serve Patients


The 'polar vortex' that gripped much of the country this week has not stopped pharmacists from helping patients.

The bitterly cold weather in the Midwest has not stopped pharmacists from doing their jobs and helping patients.

Areas across the country were hit by a 'polar vortex' this week, with the upper Midwest particularly hard hit. Record lows were seen across the region, and Chicago felt colder than Antarctica at times.

On Wednesday, Chicago was hit with a low of 21 degrees below zero and a wind chill that made it feel like 36 degrees below zero. Temperatures on Thursday were around 9 degrees below zero, with the wind chill making it feel like 24 degrees below zero. The freezing temperatures caused colleges, schools, and postal services to shut down, as spending even a few minutes outside could pose serious health risks.

Inclement weather, however, does not prevent patients from needing care, meaning that health care professionals, like pharmacists, had to brave the freezing temperatures to get to work.

“If you work in health care, you will have to go into work despite any temperatures. All of my community pharmacy colleagues were at work yesterday. Not 1 person had their pharmacy close,” said Laura Licari, PharmD, RPh, assistant professor of clinical sciences at Roosevelt University College of Pharmacy in Chicago and president of the Illinois Pharmacists Association.

She had been preparing her pharmacy students for the reality of working in health care by encouraging them to attend their internships and experiential education sites.

“For the students, we are emphasizing that they attend their internships, because when they’re working, it will be very rare that their pharmacy is going to close, and they need to be prepared to serve their patients in all weather conditions,” Licari said.

The campus was closed at Roosevelt University College of Pharmacy for 2 days, setting students in their 3-year accelerated program behind schedule.

Some teachers were able to use online video platforms such as Echo360 and Zoom to conduct classes, Licari said.

Retail pharmacists in Chicago were also affected by the dangerously low temperatures.

For chain retail pharmacist and medical writer Brittany Hoffman-Eubanks, PharmD, MBA, owner of Banner Medical LLC and a contributor to Pharmacy Times, the biggest concern was ensuring that patients were safe from the cold, while still having access to necessary medication.

“I think the biggest thing is just making sure that our patients are safe. Obviously with the cold weather, a lot of people aren’t coming outside right now, but we need to be prepared to manage those patients that need help right away,” Hoffman-Eubanks said.

She noted that the pharmacy had been unsurprisingly slow on Wednesday.

“People just weren’t coming outside, which is good because we want them to stay inside and stay safe,” Hoffman-Eubanks said.


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Despite the harsh conditions, she has confidence that her pharmacy is well prepared to deal with inclement weather.

“Even though it’s really cold outside, we’ve been handling it. In Chicago, we really expect all 4 seasons, and we’re prepared to take necessary precautions if we do need to go outside in the cold,” Hoffman-Eubanks said.

“We were able to prepare ahead of time and manage patients as needed for these past 2 days, and hopefully by the weekend, business will go on as usual," she said

Some pharmacists are showing their commitment to serving patients by doing whatever it takes to get their medication to them.

"A lot of us are kind of going above and beyond, using public transportation to deliver medication to patients or getting certain things, like over-the-counter Tylenol, for patients who need it," said Jill Drury, PharmD, a clinical pharmacy specialist in Chicago and contributor to Pharmacy Times, writing "Brown Bag Consult."

"We’ve been trying to be really proactive and encouraging patients to be responsible and get their medication filled before the weather. We're also trying to be as flexible as possible, trying to prioritize all those acute-care prescriptions coming in, trying to prioritize helping people with sick children or elderly patients who are more vulnerable in the cold," Drury said.

The weather conditions bring out the best in health care providers, she said.

"When you’re in a situation like this, whether it be an external circumstance, a hurricane, a snowstorm, or below-zero temperatures, I think humanity kind of shines through and we all work together; you know we all try to walk in each other’s shoes. We’re all just trying to do our best," Drury said.

Although temperatures are expected to continue rising Thursday, city officials are urging residents to remain cautious and avoid going outside if possible.


Bacon J; Kiggins S; Madhani A. Brutal U.S. deep freeze blamed for 10 deaths, sets all-time record cold in Illinois cities. USA Today. January 31, 2019. usatoday.com/story/news/2019/01/31/polar-vortex-2019-deadly-storm-temperatures-thursday/2729218002/. Accessed January 31, 2019.

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