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Taking care of one another

April 1, 2020
A message from registrar Greg Eberhart.

“Thank-you” is such an important word, but it simply does not feel like enough to recognize the extraordinary commitment and difference that Alberta’s pharmacy teams are making during this unprecedented time. In an environment of heightened risk, demand, and uncertainty, and amongst all the added stress and anxiety, all pharmacists and pharmacy technicians must hold their heads high for their commitment to every individual they serve while maintaining the health of our communities.

At ACP, we know that success in this environment means doing things differently. Our team is working virtually to support you in being the best that you can be. Any success that we have experienced is the result of every team member respecting the unique situations that we are each experiencing in our personal lives, our willingness to support one and other, and our commitment to internal communication like we’ve never committed to before. I share this because it may be valuable to the continued success of your team as well.

Our effort during COVID-19 is focused on three goals:

  • Building capacity within the pharmacy workforce to ensure access to pharmacy services.
  • Protecting the health of pharmacy teams and the individuals they serve.
  • Advocating policies to maintain access to drugs by those who need them most.

Alberta’s situation has changed significantly from just three weeks ago, and the rate of change will escalate. Our priority must be to practise safely. We must do our best to keep one and other safe and healthy, both physically and mentally. Follow ACP’s guidance on hand hygiene and consistently practise physical distancing. If you or a team member exhibits symptoms consistent with COVID-19, follow ACP’s guidance on

  • pharmacist and pharmacy technician occupational illness, and
  • noncompliance with mandatory requirements to self-isolate.

ACP is engaged with partners provincially, nationally, and internationally to stay as informed as possible within this rapidly changing environment. Amongst our partners, we are sharing and learning about risk, barriers, opportunities, and new ways of doing things. We have both shared and learned from our partners which has been critical to our ability to develop the guidance that we have shared with you.

Our guidance is meant to enable you to meet the needs of your community in different ways than you might have in the past, but consistent with ACP’s standards and Code of Ethics. Where legal barriers exist, we have joined our partners to collectively address the provincial and federal governments.

All of our guidance is based on the following five factors, instrumental to success during this period:

  • Ethical conduct and decision-making by all registrants
    • Every decision must be made in the best interest of each individual served, considering their unique circumstance.
  • Effective assessment and critical thinking during every patient encounter
    • The availability of information, and our ability to personally engage with individuals may be different or even compromised during this period. Pharmacists need to know what information is required and how to access that information to make a decision in response to each individual’s needs. Don’t make decisions based on assumptions, or when a gap in knowledge or required information exists. Rather, respect and be guided by limitations, knowing when to consult, when to collaborate, and when to refer. In the end, ‘access’ falls second to your effectiveness and commitment to quality and safety.
  • Maintaining the security of drugs and records
    • There will be an increased demand for deliveries, and likely other changes in how care and drug distribution occur. Whatever solutions you determine are best, there must be clear documentation about patient care and who has custody of drugs at each point of the distribution system. These records must be secure and stored at the pharmacy.
  • Maintaining privacy as communication with individuals occurs in different ways
    • Even in your pharmacy, when practising physical distancing, distances will need to be maintained. To respect the individual you are serving, additional space will be required not only between you and them, and also between them and other customers.
  • Effective communication in an environment of rapid change and high demand
    • Within your team, it will be more important than ever to share responsibilities, but also to ensure that these are coordinated. You may wish to assign at least one person to keep informed daily on new guidance provided by ACP. We hope that this will provide you the answers to your questions and enable you and your team to practice safely and effectively, while fully meeting the needs of those you serve.

Over the past three weeks, ACP has developed guidance that is important to achieving our three goals. We have built—and continue to build—capacity within pharmacy teams by

  • developing policies to support non-practising and retired registrants to return to practice;
  • providing guidance to prescribe and provide patient care when it is not possible to see the patient; and
  • working through NAPRA, to achieve a section 56(1) exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, allowing pharmacists to prescribe controlled substances for the purpose of continuing care and transfer prescriptions for controlled substances.

We have supported the protection of pharmacy teams and the individuals they serve by providing

  • general advice about COVID-19,
  • preventative measures for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians (hand hygiene and physical distancing),
  • guidance about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and
  • guidance about PPE when compounding.

ACP contributed to the development of CPhA’s guidance on “Personal Protective Equipment – Suggested Best Practices for Pharmacies During the COVID-19 pandemic.”. This is an excellent resource that should be reviewed by every pharmacy team.

We have worked with the Alberta Pharmacists’ Association (RxA) and Alberta Health to find a solution to provide PPE to all community pharmacies. Access to this is being finalized right now by RxA and Alberta Health.

We have worked with partners like Alberta Health, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA), and RxA to provide guidance important to ensuring the availability of drugs to those who need them most. This resulted in guidance on

  • thirty (30) day quantitative limits on prescriptions, and
  • discouraging the prescribing and dispensing of drugs to treat COVID-19, so that drugs could be available to patients who need them most.

We will continue to review and update our guidance regularly, to ensure that it is relevant to the changing situation. Information collected from you, other registrants, and other organizations will inform us where additional guidance may be necessary. The bottom line: check ACP’s webpage regularly for updates and changes.

To you, your team, and your family, thank you and stay healthy. Be respectful of the unique situation that each of you might be in at any point of time, be supportive of one and other, and keep up one and others’ spirits. If you and your team is not healthy, then you won’t be able to keep doing what you do best: being in the moment and meeting the needs of every individual who entrusts you with their care.