Feature   Defense News

Arizona Base's Pharmacy Continues All Operations During COVID-19

Sept. 11, 2020 | BY AIR FORCE AIRMAN 1ST CLASS DOMINIC TYLER

The 56th Medical Group pharmacy at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona continues to serve its patients while implementing preventative safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Our pharmacy hasn't closed down at all throughout COVID-19," Air Force Maj. Brandy Renner, 56th MDG pharmacy flight commander, said. "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 pharmacy's goal was to provide services to patients with the least amount of physical interaction possible. The pharmacy staff immediately implemented minimum manning which reduced the number of people on a shift by half.

The pharmacy supports a patient population of about 130,000 beneficiaries associated with the Defense Department mission, including active duty members and their families, retirees and civilians. They serve patients from all over the Phoenix area and process about 380,000 prescriptions a year.

A man wears a face mask while working on a computer.
George Pare
George Pare, 56th Medical Group pharmacy technician, speaks to a pharmacy beneficiary at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 24, 2020. Due to preventative health care measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the pharmacy implemented a new phone queuing system that allows patients to call and wait for a technician rather than receive a busy tone. The 56th MDG is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and working closely with Arizona health officials to minimize the spread of COVID-19 at the base and in the community.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Dominic Tyler
VIRIN: 200821-F-LV886-1011M

According to Air Force 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," Iles said. "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," Williams said. "It was something new, but things happened, 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 helped about 600 vehicles per day in the drive-thru while at minimum staffing.

According to Renner, along 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 about 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 that allows 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.

A line of cars winds through a parking lot and down a street.
Traffic Jam
Technicians from the 56th Medical Group pharmacy fill prescriptions at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 24, 2020. Due to preventative health care measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 56th MDG pharmacy has implemented minimum staffing. The 56th MDG is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and working closely with Arizona health officials to minimize the spread of COVID-19 at the base and in the community.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Dominic Tyler
VIRIN: 200821-F-LV886-1050M

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, Iles said this pandemic presents 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," Iles said. "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."

(Air Force Airman 1st Class Dominic Tyler is assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing).