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December 1, 2008

As Fires Raged, ASHP Members Stepped in to Help

ASHP members were instrumental in helping evacuees from the vast southern California wildfires in late October to manage their medications, highlighting the crucial role pharmacists can play in emergency situations.

More than 150 pharmacists and pharmacy students worked around-the-clock shifts at the Qualcomm Stadium and other shelters in San Diego over the course of four days to provide medications for hundreds of weary nursing facility patients and other evacuees.

Reconstructing Medical Records

“There was a big need for pharmacists. All of those nursing home patients really needed their medications” said S. John Johnson, Pharm.D., a pharmacy manager at Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego and ASHP member who helped fill some of the more than 500 prescriptions dispensed during the evacuation.

As thick, noxious smoke hovered over the San Diego region, volunteers buckled down at the makeshift pharmacies to provide needed medications, sometimes helping patients avoid admittance to hospitals. Some patients were evacuated so quickly that medical records were left behind, and elderly patients struggled to comprehend or communicate as pharmacists tried to glean the information.

 Despite the challenges, healthcare professionals of all types were able to successfully maintain continuity of care for patients affected by the fires.

Treating Patients at the “Bar-macy”

For pharmacists and pharmacy students at the stadium, that work occurred at the affectionately labeled “bar-macy,” a temporary pharmacy set up at a bar inside the facility. There, first-year pharmacy students rubbed elbows with seasoned pharmacists who dispensed drugs from behind beer taps. What made the experience all the more harrowing for the pharmacists who volunteered was the fact that many of them also had to evacuate their own homes in the face of fire.

On Oct. 22, the day after the fires erupted, Craig Steinberg, Pharm.D., pharmacy manager at Sharp Coronado Hospital, Coronado, Cal., and chairman of the San Diego Pharmacy Emergency Response Team (RXERT ), was helping to set up the pharmacy at the Del Mar Fairgrounds shelter when the call to evacuate his Del Mar neighborhood came in.

He raced home to his family and collected music, photos, and other memorabilia, and shot a video of the entire home to help with insurance claims in case the house was consumed in the fire. The family then headed to a friend’s home away from the fire.

“We had a couple of hours, and we packed up four cars and drove away,” Steinberg said. After a brief respite, Steinberg headed back to the Del Mar shelter pharmacy.

Steinberg and Johnson helped start RXERT . When the evacuations started, Johnson sent out 1,500 e-mails to pharmacists on the team’s contact list seeking volunteers to serve at the shelters. Day after day, dozens of pharmacists, pharmacy students, and technicians answered Johnson’s call.

Pharmacists as Primary Caregivers

 “In situations like this, you become a primary caregiver. It’s up to the pharmacy community to put together a response to disasters,” Johnson said, highlighting how important it is for pharmacists to become trained in emergency response.

It is a belief that ASHP ardently shares and fully supports. That’s why the Society has established a professional policy on emergency preparedness, developed a comprehensive emergency preparedness resource center on its Web site, and helped establish national pharmacist response teams after 9/11.

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