Luke Pharmacy continues all operations during COVID-19
By Airman 1st Class Dominic Tyler, 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 08, 2020
LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- The 56th Medical Group Pharmacy continues to provide all benefits to patients while implementing preventative safety measures for the Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic.
“Our pharmacy hasn’t closed down at all throughout COVID-19,” said Maj. Brandy Renner, 56th MDG Pharmacy flight commander. “We made an on-the-spot shift in operations to keep our patients safe, while still maintaining 100% of our services to 100% of our beneficiaries.”
In the initial days of COVID-19, the goal for the pharmacy was to provide services to patients with the least amount of physical interaction possible. The pharmacy staff immediately implemented minimum manning reducing the pharmacy to half the original amount of staff members on shift at a time.
The 56th MDG Pharmacy supports a patient population of approximately 130,000 beneficiaries associated with the Department of Defense mission, including active duty members and their families, retirees and civilians. They serve patients from all over the Phoenix area and processes approximately 380,000 prescriptions a year.
According to Master Sgt. Stephen Iles, 56th MDG pharmacy flight chief, COVID-19 might have brought on unique challenges, but this only proved his teams’ ability to adapt and innovate on the fly.
“In the beginning, things seemed to be changing every day,” said Iles. “But we haven’t skipped a beat as far as the service we provide to all of Luke’s beneficiaries. It really goes to show how flexible our team is and how efficient we can be, even with half the staff.”
Cryst’al Williams, 56th MDG Pharmacy technician, believes the most notable change was the closing of the pharmacy lobby and implementing a new drive-thru system.
“After we got the drive-thru window working, and figured out where to direct traffic, everything was pretty much the same,” said Williams. “It was something new, but things happen and we just had to roll with it and come up with the right solutions.”
Over a six-week period, the pharmacy filled 33,500 prescriptions, and facilitated approximately 600 vehicles per day through the drive-thru while at minimum manning.
According to Renner, with the significant increase of drive-thru traffic came an increase in traffic on the phone lines. Before COVID-19, the pharmacy could only answer approximately 100 calls a day to activate prescriptions.
She added that with the increased demand for patients to activate prescriptions over the phone, the pharmacy has implemented a new phone queuing system, allowing patients to call and wait for a technician rather than receiving a busy tone. This enabled pharmacy technicians to service 250 to 300 calls a day with a wait time of less than 15 minutes per call.
Williams explained that COVID-19 may have slightly changed pharmacy operations, but getting the right medicines to her patients in a timely manner is of the utmost importance.
“We’re dealing with people’s health here, and that’s extremely important,” Williams said. “That’s why we’ve remained open throughout COVID-19. I’m happy to be at the forefront of getting people the medication they need.”
Though COVID-19 may bring new problems to light, Master Sgt. Iles explained this pandemic as an opportunity for his team to innovate and grow. He said the unique challenges have given him great confidence in the 56th MDG pharmacy’s ability to thrive in the future.
“The pharmacy is constantly working to innovate our processes to make obtaining our services easier and safer for our patients and we want to be their choice for their prescription needs.” said Iles. “COVID-19 doesn’t change our overall mission. We care for our own. We are here to maintain the Luke warfighters’ readiness through health care.”