By Breanne Massey
Special to the Pioneer
After being deemed an essential service for the community, Pharmasave began evaluating safety policies and social distancing measures to ensure the Columbia Valley community’s welfare came first.
Pharmasave owners Alicia Shanks and Keith Irwin, who are both pharmacists by trade, began evaluating their daily operations and reaching out to their expansive network of pharmaceutical peers in both B.C. and Alberta to figure out what makes the most sense for the community.
In fact, Pharmasave and Lambert Kipp pharmacy collaborated on their solutions to ensure the experience would be consistent across the Columbia Valley.
“The transition was a challenge for sure,” Shanks said. “As an essential service, we felt like we had to come up with a lot of policies and changes without a lot of guidance initially. We had to think quickly and get things in place quickly, but we did it.
“Now things have started to settle down and I think we’ve found what works.”
Daily operations at the local Pharmasave have been modified in support of the social distancing movement for the COVID-19 pandemic, but the hours of operation remain in a business-as-usual state to encourage the community to stagger their visits to the physical storefront.
There is a hand-sanitizing station at the entrance of Pharmasave, plexiglass in front of the cashiers and pharmacists and markers on the floor to encourage social distancing. While the option to have prescriptions delivered between Canal Flats and Brisco was offered to Pharmasave clients in the past, the biggest change to their business model was in support of curbside pickup.
“For the most part, we are seeing one person come into the store instead of the whole family coming in,” she explained. “We haven’t been putting in those restrictions (about the number of people in the store at one time because) a lot of the vulnerable people we serve are sending someone on their behalf, using curbside pick up or requesting a delivery.
“Curbside pickup, we have never offered before, but it quickly became a very popular trend.”
Before the pandemic, there was one driver on contract who spent one day per week making deliveries, but at the height of the outbreak, there was a significant spike in deliveries in the Columbia Valley on any given day.
“At the beginning, when lots of people were coming back from travelling and needing to quarantine, we were seeing (approximately) 30 deliveries per day,” she said, indicating that deliveries within Invermere are now offered on a daily basis while the surrounding communities from Canal Flats to Brisco are being offered weekly on Monday and Friday.
“That has calmed down. Now, it’s mostly vulnerable populations who are requesting that service.”
Going forward, Pharmasave is hoping to automate requests for deliveries to create efficiencies for the community, but it’s still a work-in-progress.
“With prescription pickup, the Pharmasave website or eCare app, you can actually order your prescriptions online and it comes directly to our system to prepare,” she explained. “It’s pretty slick, but we’re finding there’s a need for other items such as pain relief or cold and flu products as well. We’re looking at other options to streamline operations but we’re not there yet.”
For the time being, the community is encouraged to call 24 hours ahead, when possible, and ensure prescriptions are stocked and prepared in advance.
“One thing that we’ve noticed is that there’s a trend where people are limiting their trips to town for errands and everyone wants to be fast, efficient and organized in their outing which is great,” said Shanks. “If it’s possible, please think of us for these outings and call us in advance of doing these runs to prepare these prescription refills. It helps us prioritize urgent prescriptions and to ensure there’s enough stock.”
Initially, Pharmasave — along with many other businesses worldwide — experienced the strain on the supply chain.
“It took time for the world’s supply chain to catch up with the needs of its communities, but now it seems to have caught up,” she explained, indicating toilet paper, face masks (disposable and/or reusable) and gloves are currently in stock.
But overall the community and the team working at Pharmasave have had a positive experience.
“I’ve been extremely proud of our team,” Shanks said about the staff on the ground. “I feel like they’ve handled a lot of change in a really short period of time, while managing their own personal lives and feelings in a fantastic way. I don’t know what I would do if that wasn’t the case.”
The majority of the community has followed the safety precautions without restrictions being enforced by the Pharmasave team.
“The morale of the community has changed over the timespan of the pandemic,” said Shanks. “For the most part, we get a lot of thanks and appreciation. Of course, in this business, we’re going to see people with medical complications and frustrations that they’re learning to cope with and this demographic has been really patient with us during this transition.”
The biggest change in daily operations has been the fact that clients are no longer stopping into the pharmacy to drop off a prescription.
“A lot of our prescriptions from the doctors’ offices are arriving via fax now,” Shanks explained.
“People aren’t coming in to drop off prescriptions anymore because they’re sending in family members to pick them up or requesting deliveries. We miss seeing all of our patients and their families, and we miss having that direct contact with our patients. I know that’s the way it has to be right now for everyone’s overall safety, but from an emotional standpoint we miss seeing our patients right now, just as I’m sure all of the other health care workers are too.”