The message from WA pharmacist Linda Keane to customers is clear: it’s time to be considerate of staff and to “learn to share” when it comes to visiting your local pharmacy for supplies during the ever-evolving COVID-19 crisis.
A pharmacist from WA, Ms Keane is the owner of Dunsborough Pharmacy and Nourish Health Food Pharmacy – “we also do compounding there”. She is also a WA branch committee member of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.
“We’ve been busier than we’ve ever been,” Ms Keane says describing the key changes that have happened in pharmacy since the outbreak of COVID-19.
“The team has come under enormous pressure [yet] have maintained composure in this difficult time.
“The team have been absolutely exceptional. It’s going to make me cry to talk about it. They have just really pulled together.”
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The way the teams at both pharmacies have handled the crisis has been through communication and utilising technology to maintain connection – it’s about physical not social distancing.
“We had a big meeting with both teams from the stores and gave them clear steps as to what our stages of closing down were. We broke [staff] into teams … to stop cross-contamination [because] we have to stay open.”
Ms Keane describes the two things they have implemented to help with mental health and to maintain social connection between the teams is a closed Facebook group that consists of 45 members – “our little corner of the South West” – and an Instagram group.
The Facebook group is a place for the South West pharmacies to share information with each other, while also keeping moods high through funny memes.
While the Instagram group is there to help the two teams interact.
“Because we’re now in teams a lot [of staff] don’t see each other, and they don’t interact. This is their way of having a bit of a social giggle and [to find out about] what’s happened at work,” she says.
“So apart from reassuring them [her staff] that I’m going to do everything to keep the place open and [that] I’m going to look after them, we’ve tried to make it a bit of fun as well.”
Communication between staff and colleagues, and customers is critical during times of crisis. Ms Keane says it’s important to “communicate with the team and customers because they’re fearful – it’s an uncertain time”.
“[Also] lean on your colleagues and find out what they’re doing. [The] Facebook group that we’ve got has been a great [place for communication and for sharing ideas].
“A lot of pharmacies are single-pharmacist owners and they’ve just got themselves and no one else to bounce ideas from. So, I would lean on your colleagues.”
As far as working with customers goes, Ms Keane says that while issues around panic buying and stockpiling have been a big challenge and have “amplified shortages” she understands where they’re coming from.
“Our main role is to communicate [with] people. Customers are scared – they’re living in a very uncertain world … I understand where they’re coming from.
“It’s just been difficult trying to empathise while also stopping them from [stockpiling] to make sure there’s stock available for everybody.”
Ms Keane implores customers to “learn to share” to “get what you truly need” and leave the rest for others.
Speaking about the measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 Ms Keane explains that this came in two stages.
“Initially, we had increased levels of infection control, but we were completely open.”
They’ve since “closed doors” and implemented a strategy to monitor the entry and exit points of the pharmacies. “We have [someone] who stops [customers] at the door and asks them whether they’ve got symptoms. Then only a certain amount of people are let in at any one time,” she says.
On entry customers are given a dollop of hand sanitiser and clear instructions (with “clear markings” on the floor) about physical distancing.
“People are really accepting of [these new measures],” Ms Keane adds.
As a member of the WA branch committee of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia Ms Keane points out that the Guild is “trying to ease things and trying to [make changes]”. She uses the example of signing for a script.
“The Guild are trying to get things like that waived during crisis because it’s not a good thing to happen. There is also provision that a pharmacy can sign to say [the medication] was collected.”
Specific to WA, Ms Keane adds that the WA branch are “providing templates for signs” to pharmacies that they can “put outside” as a way of communicating with their customers.
“[They’re also] providing information related to what your obligations are as an employer with sick leave … and isolation pay.”
At a time when communication is critical, it seems the industry as a whole is coming together.
“The end point of this is there’s going to be a vaccine. Until then we have to somehow manage our way through [this],” Ms Keane ends.