Pharmacists affected by, responding to Superstorm Sandy

Pharmacies reopening in trailers; state pharmacy convention evacuated

NASA's Aqua satellite captured a visible image of Sandy's massive circulation on Oct. 29 at 18:20 UTC (2:20 p.m. EDT). Photo credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team

When Elise M. Barry joined the New Jersey Pharmacists Association (NJPhA) in mid-July as CEO, a priority was to get ready for her first NJPhA Annual Convention. Set for sparkling Trump Plaza in Atlantic City in late October, Barry had a million details to take care of and only 3 short months in which to do it. But most of all, she was looking forward to meeting some 200 members face to face and getting know everyone on a first-name basis.

Superstorm Sandy changed her convention agenda considerably. After a day of immunization training last Friday and opening of the convention on Saturday morning, she had to turn to National Hurricane Center projections and discussions with hotel staff about what to do.

“Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to talk with members, most of the day was negotiating about the impending storm and providing for members’ safe return to their homes,” Barry told pharmacist.com.

The final decision was to cancel all of Sunday’s programs, and that necessitated moving some constitutionally required activities into the somewhat subdued Saturday evening festivities. “Many of our community pharmacists in attendance left on Saturday afternoon or evening,” Barry said. “They wanted to secure their pharmacies before the storm so they would be able to help patients once it passed.”

Of course, Sandy in fact made landfall at Atlantic City on Monday evening and did considerable damage there.

One state to the north, where the storm’s counterclockwise rotation slammed the ocean into the nation’s largest metropolis, New York pharmacists are dealing with the destruction wrought by high tide–enhanced surge, winds, and rain. In addition to the more than 100 buildings destroyed by fire in the Far Rockaway area of Queens, at least one pharmacy was lost to floodwaters, said Selig Corman, BSPharm, Consultant Pharmacist/Professional Affairs, Pharmacists Society of the State of New York (PSSNY). The owner has contacted PSSNY for help with wholesalers, licenses, and approvals needed to reopen in a trailer so that those whose medications were destroyed in the storm can get replacements.

The New York State Board of Pharmacy, operating under emergency plans put in place in 2001 following 9/11, is allowing pharmacists in the New York area to provide a few days’ supply of non–controlled substance prescription drugs without a prescription, as long as the dispensing pharmacist feels the situation is reasonable, Corman said.

Pharmacies in lower Manhattan remain without power, Corman added. PSSNY is also aware that widespread power outages are limiting pharmacy operations on Long Island. Many pharmacies are turning to back-up generators—as long as they last—and using cell phones for billing when mobile services are working.

With tunnels closed and bridges clogged by traffic carrying people who usually use subways, deliveries to New York area wholesalers and pharmacies could be delayed. This may lead to spot shortages as poststorm demand rises and those on chronic medications come in for their monthly refills.

Health systems in New York and New Jersey are operating in emergency mode. Pharmacists have had to bring clothes and other items needed for a prolonged stay with them when reporting for duty. The NJPhA outgoing president and incoming chair of the Board of Trustees, Sandra Moore, returned from the Atlantic City convention to find her presence requested for just such a stay at the health system where she practices in southern New Jersey.

“Disasters occur,” Corman said, thinking back over the many situations he has seen during 50 years as a community pharmacist. “I remember one time in the Adirondacks where an ice storm kept people shut in for 5 days. They needed to travel 5, 10, or 15 miles to get to a pharmacy. People could not get there—the roads were covered by ice. That was a serious problem. When someone is without their medications, it’s a serious problem.”

Updated 4:30 pm, November 2, 2012