Pharmacists on the front lines trying to keep Hoosiers safe during COVID-19 pandemic

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During this pandemic, pharmacists are also on the front lines filling prescriptions to keep people healthy, but they have to do it while being safe themselves.

Blue River Pharmacy owner and pharmacist Julie Acra says they’ve been busy nonstop. She’s also seen an increase in the number of patients coming in.

“We have increased our stock and our prescription stock. We haven’t seen a lot of shortages yet with that, so we’re trying to encourage people not to hoard drugs or get a lot of prescriptions early,” Acra said.

In an effort to keep employees and patients safe, Acra and her husband have closed the lobby. People can pick up their over-the-counter medications and drop of prescriptions from the drive-thru.

“No one wants to stand around sick people in the pharmacy and we just felt that for public safety it was our best interest for everybody to just close the front of the store,” Acra said.

Blue River pharmacy even delivers medication all across Indiana.

“We are encouraging people to stay in their homes, so a lot of times we are taking credit cards over the phone. We’re just going to their doors the wither calling them or knocking on their doors so they are not exposed,” Acra said.

Acra says the Governor’s order to fill 90-day supplies hasn’t really impacted them either.

Acra’s staff comes to work and goes straight home to practice social distancing. She knows pharmacists and techs can’t afford to fall ill from COVID-19.

“We’ve got to be there for our patients and for the public so it’s real important that we stay well,” Acra said.

Larger companies like Kroger, Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, and Target have seen an increase in business at their pharmacies. They’re taking necessary precautions to protect customers and employees.

Kroger is going to install 20,000 plexiglass barriers at stores around the county.

Starting tonight a Kroger spokesperson confirms you will start to see these barriers go up around pharmacies and the traditional checkout lanes in Central Indiana. These barriers will allow them to keep serving the public, but safely.

Target sent us a statement on what they’re doing to keep people safe at their stores:

Like many others, we’re taking guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends regular cleaning as one of the most important preventative measures we can take. We’ve invested in and expanded rigorous cleaning routines including:

  • Having a team member stationed at each store entrance to ensure carts and baskets are clean and available in an orderly fashion.
  • Cleaning check lanes after each guest transaction.
  • Rotating the use of check lanes to allow those lanes not in use to be deep cleaned.
  • Adding payroll hours to support more rigorous cleaning routines.
  • Rolling out Plexiglas partitions to check lanes at the front of our stores, as well as at electronics, service desks, CVS Pharmacy and Target Optical.
  • We’re encouraging guests to observe social distancing and remain six feet apart while entering and shopping in our stores through the following measures:
  • Posting signage at the front of every store.
  • Implementing floor signage.
  • Dedicating team members to ensure guests wait in line at an appropriate distance until they’re called to the register. 
  • Overhead audio messaging in our stores.

Effective March 26, and until further notice, Target stores will stop handling guest-supplied reusable bags out of an abundance of caution. Our team members are bagging items in a Target-supplied paper or plastic bag, and we’re waiving any local bag fees. If a guest brings in a reusable bag, they can choose to bag their items themselves.

We’ve ceased food sampling in our stores, as well as keeping our Starbucks cafes and fitting rooms closed for the time being (however, guests may still use our fitting rooms, or a mother’s room, for nursing if requested).”

Walmart sent us a statement on what they’re doing to keep people safe at their stores:

“We’re taking any and all measures to ensure the well-being of our customers and associates. To that end, we remain in contact with the CDC, as well as respective state health departments, and are taking every precaution necessary to keep our stores safe, cleaned and sanitized. Those steps include delivering updated protocols to associates through videos and photos, as well as schedules for cleaning to help provide clear guidance. We also have a voice-activated app called Ask Sam that associates can use to ask for cleaning guides for any area of the store. 

Regarding the use of masks and gloves, the CDC does not say those measures are required at this time. However, should associates wish to wear them, they’ll be allowed, given that they provide them.

Our stores have adjusted operating hours to 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. to help associates restock the shelves while continuing to clean and sanitize the store. We’ve also implemented special shopping hours for our older customers to minimize exposure. Through April 28, Walmart stores will host an hour-long senior shopping event every Tuesday for customers aged 60 and older. This will start one hour before the store opens. Our Pharmacies and Vision Centers will also be open during this time.

Finally, and this is new, we started installing plexiglass barriers (sneeze guards) at our pharmacy lanes (both Walmart and Sam’s Club) and will install these guards at the regular Walmart registers during the next three weeks. This is intended to help bring peace of mind that we are doing everything we can to keep our people and our stores safe.

Also, we’ve begun installing floor decals at the entrances and in checkout lanes, making it easier for customers to judge the proper social distance from each other.”

CVS sent us a statement on what they’re doing to keep people safe at their stores:

Pharmacies are a critical resource for communities across the country, and we’ll continue to be here for customers and patients in these trying times. Our employees have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to providing essential goods and services at a time when they’re needed most, and we’re awarding bonuses to those working in our stores and other facilities who are assisting patients and customers in this time of unprecedented need. We’re also working around the clock to increase availability of supplies and update protocols to ensure our stores are safe for employees and customers alike:

· All store employees received protective masks this week. Gloves and hand sanitizer for employees’ personal use are also being provided.

· We have hourly protocols in place for cleaning hard surfaces and more frequent cleaning of commonly handled items. We’re providing store teams with cleaning supplies and making every effort to replenish them when necessary.

·Disinfecting wipe stations have been placed at the front of each store for our customers to use.

· Store signage reminds customers that the CDC has asked anyone with symptoms or a diagnosis of COVID-19 to remain in quarantine, and for everyone else to observe the proper social distance.

· We’re taking additional measures to ensure proper social distancing, especially at the pharmacy counter, including floor markers to help our customers be mindful of how close they are to others. 

· We’re in the process of providing protective panels for our pharmacy counters and front-store checkout stations. Our stores in the hard-hit New York area have already received them.

· We’ve waived charges for home delivery of prescription medications and are also encouraging drive-thru use where available so customers can get what they need without stepping foot in the store.

Our full-time employees have always had access to paid sick leave, and we’ve made 24 hours of paid sick leave available to part-time employees for the duration of the pandemic. This is in addition to the 14-day paid leave we’re providing for any employee who tests positive for COVID-19 or needs to be quarantined as a result of potential exposure. We have also launched a new offering to help employees with both child and elder or adult dependent care needs.

Walgreens also sent us a statement on what they’re doing to keep people safe at their stores:

“We are actively exploring additional safety precautions to create as safe a store environment as possible for our customers and team members. 

We recommend all employees wash their hands frequently and have implemented social distancing guidelines to ensure a safer store experience for our team members, customers, and patients. All stores have a “Social Distancing Line,” which begins 6 feet away from all checkout counters. Lines are clearly marked where customers may begin to wait until the team member instructs them to step up to the counter and 6 foot increments are also marked to indicate where customers should stand in line to ensure they are keeping their distance from other customers. We have also placed social distancing lines starting 6 feet from the front door for when customers wait for stores to open. 

In the pharmacy waiting area, we are ensuring there’s at least 6 feet between pharmacy waiting chairs by spacing chairs out accordingly. For pharmacy chairs that are connected together, stores are placing signage on the middle chair informing customers the chair is not available at this time to support social distancing.  

New signage has been placed throughout the stores to provide instructions to our customers and team members on these key changes to the customer experience. 

In addition, Walgreens has gone to a set 9am-9pm schedule to allow additional: 

1.       Deep cleaning of stores 

2.       Stocking of medicines and products 

3.       Rest for our people on the front lines 

Stores are increasing the frequency of daily cleaning procedures including cleaning high-traffic areas counter tops and point-of-sale terminals, with additional deep cleaning being conducted by a professional cleaning service at all stores. Our team members are taking appropriate protective steps such as wearing gloves during this cleaning process all distribution centers are proactively pushing out additional cleaning and sanitization items to stores nationwide for team member use. Walgreens beauty differentiation stores have also removed multi-use testers and will not be offering makeover services at this time. 

We are closely monitoring this situation and will adjust our business operations and policies based on all federal, state and local health advisories. We are also in close communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and follow their guidance closely. In most if not all of these cases, the state or local government continues to ask essential retailers like Walgreens to remain open at this time. As this situation evolves, we are actively reviewing our policies, procedures and operations to promote the safety and well-being of our team members and customers.”

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