Cape Breton-Canso MP Mike Kelloway (far right) recently visited with staff at the Island Pharmacy in Arichat.

Editor’s note: The following article was corrected from the version which was published in the July 29 edition of The Reporter.

ARICHAT: Island Pharmacy has been nominated in Advocate Media’s “Shine On” campaign.

Island Pharmacy employee Amy Boudreau entered the Arichat business in the campaign.

“Working there as a pharmacy [assistant] during this crazy, uncertain time is definitely tiring but the owners/pharmacists Tracy Martell and Craig Giles have made it feel so much [safer] to work in,” Boudreau wrote. “From limiting customers [one at a] time, making sure everyone who comes into the store is wearing a mask and uses hand sanitizers and also asking questions. Also Craig, in his off time, which wasn’t much, cut, engraved, and installed plexi-glass at the front cash and dispensary. Also they reduced hours and closed at lunch to give us all a chance to catch up and catch our breath as it was [busier than] we’ve ever seen, but through it all, none of us who work there have felt unsafe or under-appreciated for all our hard work. The customers have also thanked us for taking extra precautions to make sure everyone stays safe and healthy.”

Co-owner and pharmacist Tracy Martell told The Reporter it has been a difficult few months for the only pharmacy serving Isle Madame and Louisdale.

“We had our hands tied kind of because during that state of emergency, the Canadian Pharmacy Association put in a mandate of 30 days supply,” Martell recalled. “We could only give 30 days’ supply because we had to protect the drug supply, basically. And during that time, I think we had an extra almost 2,000 molecules go short, so we really had to try to just make sure that we weren’t giving some people too much and some people not enough. We never knew how long it was going to last.”

As a result, Martell said the volume “went through the roof” because people panicked, worrying that they would run out of their prescriptions.

“That really put a strain, not necessarily on the business, but on the staff because we were doing almost double the amount of prescriptions in one day because it was almost full-out,” Martell noted.

Because of the virtual patient visits, doctors were able to quickly call-in more prescriptions each day, adding to the “extra influx,” Martell recalled.

“We had to close early, but they had to stay late and come in early because we literally couldn’t catch up from the day before,” Martell said. “Our wait time ended up turning into a 24-hour thing.”

The co-owner said all customers and staff had to wear masks, customers are given hand sanitzer when they enter, and all customers were screened for possible COVID-19 symptoms at the front door.

The pharmacy has continued to request masks because of the amount of new faces staff are seeing in the business.

“We were the front-liners, everybody was coming in,” Martell stated. “Right now, we’re still doing it but we’ve had a lot of influx of visitors.”

Because of the size of the pharmacy, Martell said social distancing was a challenge.

In addition to the measures they were forced to take, the co-owner said someone was hired to take prescriptions over the phone because it was “ringing off the hook,” while a local student was hired to monitor the front door.

Martell said before long, the pharmacy closed at lunch for an hour to give staff a much needed break.

“Everybody was over-tired because of all the extra work,” she said. “We just couldn’t keep up. We had two pharmacists here at all times, sometimes we even had three. We had an extra person on the phone, and still…”

Knowing that some of these new rules were unpopular, Martell said these measures had to be taken to protect everyone’s health and safety.

She said rather than having to lay-off staff, they actually hired two more staff, and while business in the store was less, the pharmacy remained busy.

Martell said things in the store are finally starting to normalize and she hopes pharmacies will get a temporary reprieve over the summer, especially now that they can provide customers with a 90-day supply for their prescriptions.

But with that 90-day supply rule expected to end and the possibility of another wave of transmission, Martell said they are getting ready.

“We’re expecting to have a little bit of a break for the summer, but then once the fall hits again, that 90 days will be up again, so we’ll have all that turn-over again,” Martell said. “We’ll be prepared better this time ahead of time for this impact.”

Martell said it should be noted that Giles was instrumental in making masks, Personal Protective Equipment and hand sanitizer readily available for customers during the pandemic, even as others struggled to maintain a supply.

“It was a rough time for everybody,” Martell added. “Anybody that says that business was rosy during all of this and everything went smoothly, that’s not true. There were so many bumps along the way that sometimes you had to make the hard decision to sacrifice things because you needed to protect the safety of the staff and you needed to give the staff their head space because it was chaotic.”

The winner in the “Shine On” campaign will receive an advertising package valued at $3,000 and the chance to be highlighted in Advocate Media’s publications in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.