Date: 16 December 2020
Community pharmacists have risen to the challenges of 2020 and served their patients and communities better than ever before says one who should know - former Pharmacy of the Year proprietor Samantha Kourtis.
Ms Kourtis of Capital Chemist Charnwood in the ACT said the profession as a whole had been inspiring.
“Even on my very worst days this year all I’ve had to do is step back and look at my colleagues across the country and really look at the difference they have made for their community,” she said.
“Every single community pharmacist I know has not shied away from this experience.
“What I have continued to see through the bushfires and through COVID-19 is community pharmacists’ commitment to providing healthcare to their community - in partnership with the Government - and delivering the PBS.
“We have never done it better and if there was ever a year in Australian history where our industry should be incredibly proud of what we have done, it’s been this year.
“All of us have made incredible sacrifices physically and emotionally, and financially to keep our businesses going, to support our teams and to be there for the people in our community.”
Ms Kourtis can speak firsthand from her experiences at Capital Chemist Charnwood. The pharmacy services a community of about 7,000 that is very diverse socio-economically, culturally and religiously, while also having a large Indigenous population.
“At Charnwood, we have felt the full impact of everything the year has thrown at us,” she said.
“In Canberra, we had just gotten over the bushfires and that was pretty tough and by mid-January, I was telling my colleagues around the country that January was the toughest month of my career.
“I spoke too soon because we got through that and then March came.
“With COVID-19 I had so many conflicting priorities.
“I needed to keep my family safe and right at the beginning my dad actually contracted COVID-19 interstate and that was very difficult for me.”
Mr Kourtis said she had a staff of 51 people but had to increase that to 56 to cope with the demands arising from the pandemic.
“A priority was keeping my staff safe,” she said.
“At the end of March/April, we were still getting more than 700 people through our doors daily.
“And when you are trying to do that and limiting numbers in the pharmacy to ensure social distancing you get people feeling frustrated.
“We would see anger and retaliation, and abuse and violence at the staff by some people. I feel some patients were so scared and out of sorts they just took it out on us.
“It doesn’t mean it was right and it did wear us down and it did get to the point where we had to employ security guards to help keep our community safe.”
Ms Kourtis said the pharmacy had an employee assistance program which usually saw three or four staff access appointments with a psychologist.
“This year I’ve had over 10 staff access those appointments and head office has provided a 24-hour- access phone line which I know my team have been utilising.”
Ms Kourtis said many of her concerned patients had asked if they would run out of medicine, would the pharmacy start closing early, would it close altogether, and what would they do if she or the staff got COVID-19.
She found a good way to get messages out was to produce quick videos on her phone.
“I produced candid videos and took to social media to respond to community questions and advise about the many new procedures in place to ensure access to medicines and services.”
But Ms Kourtis said there were a lot of positives to come from the hardships of the year.
She and her staff had embraced the opportunity to further incorporate technology into the pharmacy practice, with both the sleep apnoea clinic and the maternal and child healthcare services examples of services which were able to continue throughout the crisis
“A lot of people talk about the new normal,” she said.
“I’m excited about what have we learnt this year, what are we going to take out of this year moving forward.
“This includes all of the technology and changes to legislation that have given us things like e-prescribing and apps where patients can order their medicines online and see their whole profile online.
“Even the importance of MyHealth Record has been highlighted as a result of the pandemic.
“The technology means my midwife can continue to do Zoom or phone consultations and my sleep apnoea technicians can continue to monitor patients remotely – all this is really exciting.”
Contact: The Guild