The COVID-19 pandemic has not spared any corner of our nation. Despite its remote location in the “heart” of the Navajo Nation, in April the Chinle, Arizona, area was experiencing an estimated infection rate ten times higher than the rest of the state of Arizona, and the third highest infection rate nationally behind New York and New Jersey. When I talked with the pharmacy staff at IHS Chinle Hospital in March about COVID-19, the fear and uncertainty were palpable. Many of our native Navajo staff members even resisted discussing COVID-19 due to cultural taboos. The executive management of Chinle Hospital issued a call to arms to the pharmacy management team. We were tasked with developing a method of providing pharmaceutical care that ensured patient, staff, and community safety without compromising patient care.
Pharmacy leadership quickly focused on efficiently adapting our operations while minimizing disruptions. We worked to reduce the need for patients to come inside the hospital for pharmacy services. First, over a two-week period, our pharmacy diligently worked to contact 3,908 patients to assist them with signing up for the pharmacy’s mail-order program, enabling them to receive their medication without physically going to the hospital. Next, we developed the area’s first drive-thru pharmacy alternate care site. This was very surreal, as it resembled a concession stand. Initially located outside the outpatient pharmacy, it was eventually settled at the hospital’s wellness center.
As a Public Health Service officer, I have realized that being flexible, willing to embrace change in the blink of an eye, and being respectful of cultural beliefs ensures that we do everything we can to safeguard our patients, staff, and community we serve. Public Health Service officers are afforded the singular privilege of serving as transformative health care agents dedicated to “…protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of the nation…” Furthermore, as with any endeavor, collaborative and symbiotic teamwork is crucial. We were able to decrease the flow of patients into the hospital to ensure the safety of our patients with the support of hospital leadership and the quick thinking, hard work and dedication of the Chinle pharmacy staff.