Pharmacists in Puerto Rico help their communities after Hurricane Maria

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Local pharmacies are critical access points for health care, says Walgreens senior director of pharmacy operations

Despite Puerto Rico’s utter devastation after Hurricane Maria, pharmacists and pharmacy staff who live there are going above and beyond serving patients in their communities, said Justin Coyle, PharmD, senior director of pharmacy operations at Walgreens.

“Team members have lost their homes and need basic needs like food, fuel, water, clothing, and shelter,” Coyle said. “Not only are they experiencing the storm as residents of Puerto Rico, they’re helping their community, and they’re helping their patients.”

Before the hurricane hit, the pharmacy chain had plans in place to account for team members being safe, Coyle said, adding that Walgreens pharmacy staff were coming together and helping each other out. “What that looks like is as simple as: ‘Are you okay?’”

As Puerto Rico is challenged to rebuild infrastructure, pharmacies are “becoming critical access points for health care in the community,” he said. “What would be the normal course of business to get care at a Walgreens is now in a completely different place.” Stores are much busier than usual, with longer lines.

Phone and internet connectivity are at best intermittent, so Walgreens pharmacists and pharmacy staff are called upon to capture everything the patient needs, reach out to prescribers, and work closely with other pharmacies—all pharmacies—and providers to get patients their medications.

Pharmacists are out in the shelters to support evacuees and find out what care they need, including prescriptions and immunizations, Coyle said.

To deliver the needed inventory to stores, Walgreens is “making sure those sites are serviced daily,” Coyle said. “It’s teams, and it’s also equipment and resources,” including computers and workstations. He added, “If folks can’t ship medications into Puerto Rico, and they can’t reach their patients, we’ve been able to work with our partners.”

He said that the company had support already based in Puerto Rico, has sent teams down into Puerto Rico for additional support, and is helping the chain’s employees in Puerto Rico from centralized operations in Deerfield, IL, where Walgreens is headquartered.

“There’s all kinds of support pouring in to help” his pharmacists there, Coyle said, “but without them, there’s no way we would be operational and up and running so fast.”

At the time of the interview, Walgreens had 76 of 120 stores open. The company’s Puerto Rico store status information is updated regularly at http://news.walgreens.com/press-releases/community-news/hurricane-maria-puerto-rico-store-status.htm.

Walgreens donated $250,000 to American Red Cross Hurricane Maria relief efforts, and Walgreens patients can donate during store checkout to the Red Cross at approximately 8,000 Walgreens and Duane Reade locations throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.

“Everyone needs help, and they’re helping each other,” Coyle said. “It just makes us extremely proud.”

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