Pharmacists help patients affected by West Virginia floods

Pharmacists are the most accessible health care providers. During emergency situations, pharmacists often step up in difficult times to help countless patients in need.

Recently, heavy rains pummeled my home state of West Virginia, resulting in historic flooding that has caused extensive property loss, destruction, and more than two dozen deaths. We’ve seen a real outpouring of love and support from pharmacists who throw themselves into helping their communities.

Patty Johnston, BSPharm, a longtime good friend and colleague, is a preceptor at West Virginia University School of Pharmacy and the former owner of Colony Drug in Beckley, WV.  She told me that pharmacists in Rainelle, WV, administered tetanus shots to the local community, offered blood pressure and glucose checks, provided first aid, and helped those cope with the situation.  The pharmacists even helped unload ice and load vehicles with water and other supplies to send to the surrounding areas. Here is a description of her experience in her own words:

I contacted David Yoakum, PharmD, the Director of Pharmacy, at Rainelle Medical Center to see if he needed help. He asked if I could come to help administer tetanus vaccines to people who had been exposed to flood waters. Tuesday and Wednesday I helped  staff  a satellite station in one of the supply distribution centers. Joining me were two PharmD candidates from West Virginia University School of Pharmacy, Wes Kafka and Haley Smith, along with Jane Showalter, RN, all from Colony Drug in Beckley, WV. There were nurses and a physician from West Virginia University who devoted their time to seeing patients experiencing flood related injuries as well as exacerbation of chronic illnesses. As pharmacists we responded to the local need quickly and provided care in an underserved area.

I’d like to share another experience, which comes from another colleague, Jann B. Skelton, BSPharm, MBA, president of Silver Pennies Consulting. She shared the following regarding her father, Jim Burks, who is a pharmacist in Richwood, WV. Jim has been through flooded pharmacies four previous times, and this is his fifth flood.

Jim knows how important it is to reopen the pharmacy, the literal center of the community. His experience is an asset; he knows how important it is for the people in this small town to see their pharmacist, and know that he is doing everything he can to help them. They fill the prescriptions, and Jim drives the 45 minute round trip route to pick up the medications and get them to his patients. It also means coordinating with the central supply center to ensure that patients have other basic health needs, like water, disinfectants, and even food. Sometimes the most important thing he can offer is a kind word, and a hug, which may be the most important medicine of all right now.

WSAZ-TV, based in Huntington, WV, told the story of how Clendenin Pharmacy in Clendenin, WV, has reopened its doors on an emergency basis after flooding destroyed the community pharmacy. The family who owns the pharmacy expects to have their medicine shelves fully restocked on July 5.

On a personal note, my wife lost her lifelong friend, Joni Adams, and Joni’s partner, Sandi Boswell. The president of West Virginia University has a piece in the Charleston Gazette-Mail that mentions Joni, who selflessly helped others her whole life.

Some ways that readers can help are listed on the West Virginia Public Broadcasting website, the Council of Better Business Bureaus website, and in a recent Huffington Post article.

These are just a few examples of how folks are helping as thousands of folks lost their homes. In the face of countless tragedies, let’s celebrate the kind-hearted pharmacists who are stepping up to help. Share your stories in the comments section below.