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How to Create an Emergency Response Plan for Your Pharmacy


March 12, 2019


Inside: Don’t be caught unprepared when disaster strikes. Protect your pharmacy business during an emergency with proper planning.

Wether it’s a blizzard in the winter, a severe thunderstorm in the summer, or a power outage any time of year, emergencies are bound to happen in your community. As the most accessible medical professional, pharmacists sometimes find themselves—and their businesses—on the front lines of the most stressful situations.

According to a 2012 survey, 62 percent of businesses do not have an emergency plan in place. If you haven’t established a detailed plan to address potential disasters and emergencies, there’s no better time than now. Here are the key factors to consider when compiling your plans.

Identify the most likely hazards

If you live and work in Oklahoma, you probably don’t need to prepare for a hurricane. And you already know you’ll need to prepare for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and even earthquakes. Weather-related emergencies are some of the easiest hazards to identify based on your location and climate, and the Department of Homeland Security has guides to handle all of them:

 

You should also prepare for non-disaster emergencies, such as a robbery. Pharmacies are at an increased risk of armed robbery because many of the controlled substances they have on hand are worth big money on the streets. In 2016, pharmacies reported 1,268 burglaries and 822 armed robberies. In addition to working to prevent robbery, you should familiarize yourself and your employees with procedures to stay safe in the event that someone threatens gun violence in your pharmacy.

Examining your risks and putting that information down in writing is called a business impact analysis. In it, you consider factors such as lost business, increased costs, and delay of new business plans that could occur after a disaster or emergency. FEMA has a free worksheet to help.

Map out your communications

Communication is absolutely crucial to an effective emergency plan. Who should your employees call when something goes wrong? What (and how) will you alert patients to the situation? How will you tell employees to change their schedules, stay home, or otherwise change their usual behavior?

Keep important contact information up to date. Commit to checking your plan every quarter to verify that you have the right agencies, phone numbers, and point people listed.

 

Designate a spokesperson ahead of time to communicate with patients and, if necessary, the media. This person should be familiar with your social media channels and have a good understanding of how your pharmacy functions.

Plan for patients

Some emergencies, such as hurricanes or snow storms, will give you a few days’ lead time before the mayhem arrives. Use that time to reach out to patients who’d be especially harmed by non-adherence if they lost access to their medications. Create a protocol for ensuring patients have enough medication to get through the forecasted end of the emergency situation.

In addition, you can help educate all of your patients in the days leading up to a severe weather event, or even during the time of year when severe weather is most likely to hit (for example, tornadoes in the late spring and early summer). Share these tips from the FDA on your social media and email channels, and consider adding bag slips or putting the information on your phone’s hold message:

 

Include these steps in your comprehensive disaster planning so you can quickly mobilize to keep patients safe when threatening weather approaches.

Should you ever close your store?

Patients count on pharmacies to be open when they need their medications, and delays in filling prescriptions can cause life-threatening complications. So independent pharmacists don’t take the decision to close their business lightly. Establishing some guidelines now will simplify your decision-making process when you’re facing the stress of a crisis.

When it’s unsafe to travel
Snow, ice, flooding, and earthquakes make getting to the pharmacy treacherous, even if the building itself is perfectly safe. In some situations, it might make sense to run your store with a skeleton crew, excusing employees whose location or circumstances make it impossible to get to work safely. In other situations, travel is so perilous that no one—including patients—should be on the roads, and it makes sense to close for the day.

When your store isn’t functional
If you lose access to electricity or water, or your building sustains serious damage, it may not be possible to operate safely. If another pharmacy in the area is fully operational, consider partnering with them to meet your patients’ immediate needs while you get your store back up and running.

How closures affect payroll
Ideally, you would pay employees for the work they missed due to a disaster or emergency that required closing the store. Losing those wages unexpectedly could put them in a precarious financial situation, which can cause stress that affects their work performance.

If the employees were affected by the disaster in other ways—such as damage to their home or vehicle—lost wages will exacerbate the situation. If you’re sure you can’t afford to pay employees for missed work in a disaster, write out a policy explaining that they should use PTO if they have it available or go unpaid if they don’t. Knowing what to expect up-front will soften the blow.

Prepare your pharmacy for an emergency to protect it from disaster.


An Independently Owned Organization Serving Independent Pharmacies

PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy side of their business. The company is an independently owned pharmacy services organization based in Kansas City, Mo., that serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, expert contract negotiations, distribution services, and more.

PBA Health, an HDA member, operates its own VAWD-certified warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products.


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