Support the Workforce During COVID-19

Pharmacy Times, January 2021, Volume 89, Issue 1

During the pandemic, it is important to implement policies and practices that take care of employees.

A mid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, health care entities that employ pharmacists should put policies and practices into place to support employees and keep them safe.

There is a well-defined business case for investing in personnel because it results in improved morale, productivity, and retention. Communities, customers, and employees themselves take notice and will remember workplaces that meet the challenges of a global pandemic and take care of their workers.1

RISK ASSESSMENT

Employers are responsible for providing a healthy and safe place for people to work. A thorough risk assessment should be conducted to determine COVID-19—related hazards. Based on these results,

they can decide on the appropriate controls or personal protective equipment (PPE) needed for specific job duties.2

Employers are required by Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards to determine what PPE is required, select and provide the appropriate PPE to personnel at no cost, and train employees on its correct usage.3

DAILY HEALTH CHECKS

Employers should monitor federal, local, and state public health communications for COVID-19 guidance, recommendations, and regulations and ensure that employees have access to that information.2

Daily health checks can be done in person or virtually. Regardless of how they are conducted, they should be done respectfully and safely. Consideration should also be given to the confidentiality of medical records.2

Any employee who appears to have symptoms should be immediately separated from other individuals and sent home. Have a procedure in place for taking the sick employee to a health care provider or home. The employee should be informed of CDC-recommended steps and these steps should be followed before the employee returns to work.2

A procedure for communicating confirmed or potential cases inside the building should be prepared and that information should be disseminated as swiftly as possible upon learning of a suspected COVID-19—infected individual.

FACE MASKS

Employees should be encouraged to wear cloth face coverings at work. The CDC recommends cloth face coverings to contain respiratory droplets to help protect others from coming into contact with these droplets. Cloth face coverings may not protect the wearer from exposure to the virus, however.2

Pharmacy customers should be required to wear cloth face masks as well to protect the workers from infection. Signage should be abundant and highly visible to patrons. It should be noted that wearing a face mask does not replace the need for social distancing.

SOCIAL DISTANCING

Social distancing by a minimum of 6 feet is ideal. Pharmacies can support this by optimizing telehealth and the use of a drive-through, if available. Having fewer people come within 6 feet of employees will help keep them healthy and safe. Pharmacies can also provide curbside pickup of prescriptions.2

In-person meetings should be exchanged for phone or video conferences to support the health of all individuals attending.

If social distancing of 6 feet is not feasible, physical barriers can be set up at areas of face-to-face meetings to stop respiratory droplets from reaching others.

DISINFECTING

Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, handrails, keyboards, telephones, and workstations, should occur before and after use. Employers should

provide enough supplies so that each keyboard, stapler, telephone, etc, is used by just 1 individual. Workstations should be thoroughly cleaned in between workers using them.2

Pharmacy staff members should avoid handling paper prescriptions. Encourage clinicians to call prescriptions in or send electronic prescriptions to avoid contact. Pharmacy

staff members should also avoid handling insurance cards, money, pens, and any other objects touched by customers.2 Patient contact areas should be disinfected between customer

transactions. Pens used by customers should be quarantined until they can be disinfected.2

Be sure to provide employees with hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.

EMERGENCY BENEFITS/FLEXIBLE SICK LEAVE

Employers must work to promote economic stability and offer emergency expansions of paid family and medical leave and sick time. They should also offer flexible work arrangements to allow workers to meet their responsibilities at home and at work.1

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, amended by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide

leave for childcare needs and paid sick time. Employers need to extend these paid leave protections to workers who may not be covered under these laws.1

ABSENTEEISM

During this pandemic, it is important to support employees as much as possible. There is already a certain level of extra stress in their lives, with some confronting this more than others. Planning for the inevitable absenteeism during a pandemic will help the business run smoothly and will not put undue additional pressure on employees.

FOSTERING WELL-BEING

Essential workers are expected to go out when all others are expected to stay in. It is important to address anxiety, fears, and stress to prevent burnout. Employers can further help

support pharmacy staff members during COVID-19 by starting peer support groups. Shared experiences are a powerful resource to help decrease stress levels and help employees feel less vulnerable.4

Check in on employees.4 Be prepared to give them resources to turn to if they are struggling. Sometimes people just need to vent, so be a good listener. Once people have talked through their frustrations, they often come up with solutions or just feel better having released the burden.

Express gratitude to employees.4 Buy them lunch, make them laugh, or just thank them for being there. In times of crisis, it is important to stay connected to one another.

KATHLEEN KENNY, PHARMD, RPH, has more than 25 years of experience as a community pharmacist and is a freelance clinical medical writer based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

REFERENCES

  • National Partnership for Women & Families. Employer best practices: policies to support workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Accessed December 5, 2020. https://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/resources/economic-justice/employer-best-practices-support-workers-during-coronavirus.pdf
  • CDC. Interim guidance for businesses and employers responding to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), May 2020. Updated December 4, 2020. Accessed December 5, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19. 2020. Accessed December 5, 2020. https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf
  • Mental Health America. How healthcare workers can support each other. Updated December 11, 2020. Accessed December 11, 2020. https://mhanational.org/how-healthcare-workers-can-support-each-other