When I applied to be a pilot pharmacy for the Pharmacy Based Asymptomatic COVID-19 Testing Program I never imagined the road it would take us down.
The program was implemented to help public health gain more understanding about COVID-19 and also build in surge capacity to test people WITHOUT symptoms while Alberta Health focused on those WITH symptoms.
We were one of the first 40 pharmacies in Alberta to put this process into place.
As someone who owns his own pharmacy in his own community the decision to proceed wasn't difficult despite controversy within the pharmacy profession about stressing our capabilities even more as front line health care. After all, pharmacy is the most accessible and most accessed front line entry point to the health care system. So some of these concerns were valid.
I knew though, that pharmacy practice experts and public health experts, using the most current evidence-based science available at any given time wanted to enable this community pharmacy based testing stream.
Furthermore, I knew that people in my community would appreciate our pharmacy option versus a queue in which they were unfamiliar. Finally I knew that this would be a brilliant opportunity for me to test new technology to manage pharmacy work flow and appointment based processes.
News outlets became interested in the process and I started granting interviews as the program rolled out. Above are links to CTV and Global news stories.
I knew that the program would not work like a traditional pharmacy service. I started working with an innovative Canadian start-up company called Med Me Health. They were designing a software system from the ground up just for pharmacies. They were instrumental to help me launch as smoothly as possible.
I started with two 4 hour appointment blocks to test the waters and they started to fill up. I then went to 3 then 4 and then 5 blocks per week.
Then everything changed last week when Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health recommended that teachers should get tested (concurring with their own superintendent recommendations) before school starts.
That was it. Our phones rang off the hook. To the best of my ability I expanded our testing to every day we were open and almost all day long. We started stacking up to 5 people in each time slot to allow for entire families through.
I posted the link to book appointments directly by the public: https://medshoppe365.medmeapp.com/publicPatient/4
This is when I started chatting with teachers from almost every grade level. It turns out teachers are quite a funny bunch. They have an amazing sense of humour and held their own with my spirited back and forth. I am not naive enough to believe that this meant everything was just fine. Rather, I concluded that this must be a defense mechanism which they have honed after years in the trenches. They have simply activated and maintained this force field 24/7 because they know that they are venturing into the unknown.
There seems to be nothing "textbook" for teachers heading into this school year. I spoke to a teacher yesterday. She works with Grade 2 students with learning challenges including some with clinical mental health conditions. Some of them need close physical proximity with the teacher to feel safe enough to learn. The teacher told me that this is something she won't be able to do this year.
I realized that although this teacher was apprehensive about her own safety she seemed more concerned that she would not be able to help her students to the best of her ability. This disconnect between intention and logistical capability must be stressful. So virtual hugs to the teachers. We thank you for everything that you do.
If any of us outside of education are in a position to help teachers fight for what they need to do their jobs safely let's do what we can to advocate for them. They are going to need all the support we can muster!