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Directly Speaking
Dealing with COVID-19!

by Scott A. Meyers, Executive Vice President

Even though I’m writing this just over a month from its publication, I can only guess how much things will have changed in that short time!  Based on the past 30-days, my guess is, a lot. 

COVID-19 or Coronavirus Disease 2019, the long version, has dramatically altered life as we knew it.  And for the rest of this column, I’m going to call it CV-19 for efficiency’s sake.  Hopefully by the intended publication date of May 1, 2020, we will be able to send you a printed copy of the KP but if not, we’ll have gotten it to you online.  Thank goodness for technology and a top notch staff at ICHP!  We will hopefully be out of the “Stay at Home” mode, too, but still social distancing as much as possible.  I can see the change at movie theaters coming already, if we’re headed back.  Not only will you have to pick your seat, you’ll only be able to choose from the odd or even numbered seats, leaving an empty seat on either side.  Working out at the gym will be a more spacious event but failure to wipe down the equipment will be grounds for membership revocation!  I’m not sure what restaurants and bars will be like, but I suspect they won’t be as crowded (after the first day or two of release) as they were before CV-19 arrived.

For those who don’t know, my son and his wife and child live in Beijing, China and so some of these predictions are based on their experiences, or lack thereof.  They weathered the initial outbreak unscathed, but it has been more than two months - at the time of this writing - since they have seen our daughter-in-law’s grandparents who live on the other side of the city.  At the peak of the outbreak there, my son and another expatriate friend, in an effort to break the lockdown boredom, did a convenience store crawl.  Buy a single beer at one convenience store and then walk to the next through the cold January evening, and then repeat for a couple of more stores.  Not much for entertainment but it did break the boredom.

But all that aside, I think health care professionals learned some very hard lessons from this pandemic.  I’m not sure we can do much individually about them, but collectively through ASHP, APhA, ICHP, IPhA, and many more organizations, health-systems and corporations we can and we will do better!

While planning for disaster has been in place for many years, we are still poorly resourced for a pandemic or disaster of this nature!  While good business practices in the commercial world tout “just in time” inventory, healthcare needs a bigger stockpile or better controls of the inventory when we see disaster approaching.  Hoarding by consumers, individual health-systems, and even physicians of potential medication options is disgraceful and unethical.  We need to identify triggers or alerts that can initiate immediate holds on vital supplies.  And, as individuals, we need to make sure the pantry is filled a little better just in case that disaster hits and the holds are initiated in a timelier manner.  My goodness, just $10 more a pay period and before you know it, you’ll have a year’s supply of toilet paper in your linen closet.  Then, like the good inventory control person that pharmacists are, you rotate your stock and all’s well.

The Pharmacy Practice Act and Rules aren’t flexible enough!  No surprise there.  When you have a Department of non-pharmacists and the Medical Society telling us how we can practice pharmacy, you can’t expect much more.  We need to work with Department attorneys and the General Assembly to give the Board of Pharmacy (made up primarily of pharmacists) more input into the waivers and variances that are needed in the time of a disaster, like the Board of Pharmacy in Ohio has.  They made swift and decisive changes that helped their health care systems work more effectively to fight CV-19.  We can do that with a strong Government Affairs Division, lobbyists, and staff to lead a much stronger grassroots effort from our members long before the disaster hits.

We need to make the Governor, the Director of the Department of Public Health, and the public in general more aware of what pharmacists and certified pharmacy technicians are naturally trained to do and can do every day, not to mention during a disaster!  It’s a shame that the Governor didn’t include retired pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in his encouragement to jump back into duty and help out during the pandemic.  I received calls from retired members wanting to know how they could help.  Heck, I even volunteered to jump back into the fray if needed at one of the hospitals is Rockford.  I hope by the time you’re reading this, I didn’t need to, but will be ready and willing if asked.  And for $150 every two years and 30 hours (20 for certified techs) of CE (most of it can be free home-study from ICHP) maybe we should all keep our licenses until we can’t verify or pull an order anymore! 

Finally, and this one is the toughest, maybe we should try to convince our pharmaceutical manufacturers to produce more of their medications right here in the good old USA.  While we are a part of a global economy, being dependent on foreign manufacturers for raw materials and even a large portion of our generic medication supply is proving to be problematic.  Even before CV-19!  Yes, we will most likely have to pay more for these products, but the supply chain will be more stable and the impact of disaster half-way around the world will have a smaller ripple when it hits here.  Not to mention, our nation could get back into the business of helping other countries out when the feces hits the fan somewhere else.

I certainly don’t know the answers, but even I can see the problems, and admitting you have a problem is the first step towards recovery.  It is my hope that CV-19 won’t be the killer that experts anticipate, not because I want this to just go away but because I don’t want to see so many people suffer and die.  I hope this has helped us learn valuable lessons that we can use to improve our systems so the next problem is at least not as scary. 

Speaking of scary, I don’t think I have been as scared by an event like this since I was in 4th grade during the Cuban Missile Crisis (long time ago - Fall 1962).  If the CV-19 pandemic is still a problem this summer, that might be a good topic for August KP Directly Speaking.  I was pretty young but I remember the thought that we could all be dead at any time back then.  Probably not the same, but I’m sure those of you close to or past 60 years old have been giving it a little thought.




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