Community healthcare provider: a persistent way-maker

When times get tough, people, organizations, and communities truly show what they are made of. It can confidently be said that Pinon Family Pharmacy of Farmington, New Mexico, is made of unceasing determination and service. WSPC Board Member, Craig Burgess, PharmD, embodies the spirit of a community healthcare provider: a persistent way-maker going the distance, whatever it takes. His constant vigor to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine was inspiring, and his experience has been one that truly provides a take-away for all who hear his story.

Craig explained that it was quite easy to become a certified location to administer the vaccine; however, the true challenge came when trying to initially receive allotment. The state of New Mexico was extremely strict on who they gave the vaccine to, ensuring it was going to the right demographic. Craig went searching to get in contact with someone at the state-level and identify where he was able to “get a foot in the door” to begin vaccinating. Once he was finally connected, he began attending conference calls and zoom meetings, advocating on behalf of senior centers. He went on to explain that these centers were not getting vaccinated quick enough, and that independent pharmacies had the capacity to accomplish this better and quicker than a chain drug store. As soon as he accepted to take on this population of the community, it was all green lights in moving forward to receive the vaccine.

Pinon Family Pharmacy first received vaccine shipment of Moderna, through the state of New Mexico, on January 27th. Early on, Craig was able to place an order every week, based on how many people were in need at the senior centers. Each request was fulfilled according to demand when trying to receive a desired allotment. As weeks continued, the pharmacy was also able to also secure the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Scheduling could have been the easiest step to complement the pharmacy’s operations. The state of New Mexico had purchased a platform and required all vaccinating locations to use their platform to schedule patients. The software would directly send all data to the state, report to the state vaccine registry, and it was FREE. Craig had nothing but relief and appreciation for the system, “This really took the guessing work out of who should get the vaccine and how many patients were scheduled within a 30-minute time slot. It helped take the pressure off of staff to answer any additional phone calls or take additional time to organize a schedule.” When reaching out to existing patients, the pharmacy chose a previous tool they had utilized when communicating flu shots. Prescribe Wellness’ automating recording system helped to send messages to a set amount of people, within a set number of days to control the flow of people in the store.

In order to distribute the vaccines, the pharmacy oversaw five senior centers around the San Juan County—completing 2,000 doses. Craig then went on to reach out to six larger businesses in the community, since they were already current patients, and began vaccinating about 30-40 people per day. Craig was the only employee from Pinon Family Pharmacy to attend these vaccine efforts, while the remainder of his staff was back at the pharmacy handling paperwork. He recruited retired doctors and nurses that were willing to help administer to patients, while the city was able to take care of all additional details. EMS services were provided in case of a flare-up or reaction, police were stationed for safety and traffic control, and the city provided direction as to which parking lots were available to use. “San Juan County Emergency Services have a huge following on Facebook. Through their support and social media pushes, local radio station coverage, and mayors of each city showing up to record a Live Facebook Stream, we were able to gain a tremendous amount of traction.” Through word of mouth, Facebook posts, flyers in the pharmacy, media shares, and doctors’ office calls, there was an outpouring of involvement from this community to volunteer in any form. As these larger populations were taken care of over time, the pharmacy shifted focus on vaccinating roughly 55 patients per day within the store.

When it came to vaccine billing, Craig utilized weekly counsel with another WSPC Peer Advocate across the country. With no direction as to how to properly bill back in early February, this relationship proved to be extremely valuable for feedback, trial and error, and new techniques that were showing success. He shared that he had chosen to bill through FDS. Private insurance and Medicare were easy; however, processing the uninsured was problematic in the sense that there was no way to reconcile early on, and were very time-consuming to track. To date, reporting is still being done through Computer Rx to find claims the pharmacy may have missed. Craig went on, “You can process a report of one NDC number, and have staff continue to look through the claims to see if any are outstanding. It is not too late to claim COVID uninsured”.

The result of COVID-19 vaccinations definitely left Pinon Family Pharmacy staff overworked but rewarded. Craig shared, “The staff would work overtime to process paperwork along with the rest of the day’s demands. It was exhausting for them, but they wanted to be a part of the organization that was providing the vaccine. This has been such a unique time in this profession to step up and prove that we are more than just dispensing medications and can provide other services. It’s leading the way for pharmacists to shape what can continue to be done”.

Craig has seen such a positive response in the growth of his pharmacy as a result of the vaccine effort. More individuals were transferring over and providing feedback when visiting the pharmacy after receiving their shot. They were able to increase their name recognition through the strong and consistent shares from multiple media sources (social media, radio), and had built a large platform through the state as patients were pushed to their location to receive the vaccine. He shared his final thoughts, “We’re lucky to be in this position. This has been a time to show our community how valuable local independent pharmacy can be. We have a duty to showcase the range of our services and support we can offer”.