Local pharmacy becomes community hub in bushfire emergency

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Local pharmacy becomes community hub in bushfire emergency

Kayla Lee has been working to support and help the community, including some palliative care patients, live through the emergency.

The recent bushfire emergency has threatened the lives and homes of many Australians; creating a high level of anxiety and grief for those evacuated and their loved ones.

In Braidwood NSW, a community heavily affected by the fires since before Christmas, the local pharmacy has become one of the ‘community hubs’ where residents could not only get their essential medication, but also find comfort and support.

Kayla Lee, who has been a pharmacist in Braidwood for the last 12 months, has been working to support and help the community, including some palliative care patients, live through the emergency. “The pharmacy is the hub of the community in these smaller towns, which is really nice,” says Kayla.

“The pharmacy has been an important source of information for people. We’ve been able to connect with the local radio station to get information out to people about how to manage their asthma and the smoke exposure, how to manage dehydration and fatigue and the sort of things that come with it.”

Because smaller communities are tightly knit, there is often a close relationship between patients and their health care professionals.

When mentioning helping palliative care patients in Braidwood, Kayla says that pharmacists often have the doctors’ mobile number on hand, so “communication and getting supplies for palliative care patients is often a lot easier”, which has been helpful during the emergency situation. For example, she mentioned being able to reach a GP on his mobile, while he was watching the cricket in Sydney, to get a copy of a prescription for an evacuated patient with an urgent medication need.

Transporting medicines to Braidwood has also been challenging due to significant road closures, with shipping routes forced to change over four times in a very short period. The pharmacy has been able to work around the issue by transferring certain products from a Canberra chemist, which is part of the same banner. The local health network has also been cooperating well, with professionals being understanding and aware of the emergency and risks for patients.

When asked how people can better manage their medication during emergency situations, Kayla highlighted the importance of including medication in your emergency bag, even if it is daily medication.

“It’s really important to have at least a week of medication packed. What we were seeing is a lot of people had their evacuation bag packed, but had their medication still out on the bench because they had to take it each day. When the time would come to evacuate, they would bring their bag and forget about their medication,” says Kayla.

“If possible, having a full month available [is better] because you don’t know when you will be able to get back. That will reduce the amount of stress you’re under in that situation when you’ve evacuated.

Some people in the community who have been affected by the fires have naturally gravitated towards the pharmacy. “There have been a lot of losses around Braidwood, so we have seen a lot of emotion in the pharmacy, as well as people dealing with the grief post bushfire now. We expect that to go on for a couple of months,” says Kayla.

“The pharmacy is a place where people know they can go and chat, and they trust the pharmacist and the staff.”

This has added a new dimension to the staff’s work, as they are faced daily with distressed and emotional customers.

In response to this, Kayla said information has been provided to the staff on how to manage these situations, and where they can refer people who need further help to deal with their grief.

Initiatives from the state and federal governments to allow pharmacists to supply medicines in circumstances where patients don’t have access to prescription, whether it’s because they have been evacuated or can’t get in touch with their GP, have also been helpful to help reduce the patients’ anxiety.

PCA’s National Clinical Advisor Kate Reed echoed these words, highlighting the importance of individuals and their carers to keep on top of their prescriptions and supply of essential medicines so that when a crisis occurs, they still have access to their medications.

“The horrendous impact that the bushfires and the mass evacuations that took place on the NSW South Coast highlight the importance of the relationship of patients with their community pharmacy as well as with their primary practitioner.

“Pharmacists who have developed a therapeutic relationship with a patient will often have stock in and ready to go for that patient, knowing what they are being prescribed to manage their palliative and sometimes, treatment, symptoms.

“Maintaining these close links allows someone like Kayla and practitioners caring for palliative care patients, to quickly and efficiently supply their medications.”

Bushfire health advice

So as part of your bushfire plan, talk to your community pharmacist, your doctor and/or your nurse practitioner and ensure that your essential medications and those of your loved ones are discussed and part of your preparation in a time of crisis.

If there is a fire, or someone's life is at risk, call triple zero (000).

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 to talk to a registered nurse, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

State and territory government health departments provide up to date information about the conditions in each area and the local services available to help you.

See here for relevant state and territory bushfire health advice.