COVID-19 a balancing act for essential small businesses

Much like many businesses that have been recognised in Telstra’s business awards processes over the years, we were no stranger innovation and unique offerings, but COVID-19 certainly presented us with some new hurdles and challenges to meet.

Capital Chemist Wanniassa is a community pharmacy situated in Canberra. We have been operating since 1979 and currently employ 30 or so pharmacists and pharmacy assistants, opening 94 hours a week.

After a meeting of our pharmacy group in early March discussing COVID-19, my business partner Honor and I had a quick chat. We had a gut feeling that a lock down was coming. I went to the local hardware store. At the time, I had no idea what I was doing, but I bought bollards, some trestle tables, traffic control tape, markers and protective wear for our team members. We checked our levels of hand sanitiser and face masks, made sure we had enough pain relief medicines, cold and flu medicines, and immunity support options, and continued with “business as usual” for a while. We had, seemingly, everything we would need – we didn’t want to stockpile anything – we just wanted to meet the needs of our community in the coming weeks, and we were as ready as we could be.

A week later, I went to work early, pulled the bollards out and put socially distanced markers all over the floor. We had sneeze screens, tables barricading areas of the pharmacy, rigorous cleaning protocols, our team wore protective equipment, and over the coming weeks and months we were heavily limiting numbers of people physically in the pharmacy. Two weeks later my business partner completely transformed our team roster. We had split teams – Team A and Team B – neither group was to ever cross paths in case one person on one team contracted COVID-19, so the other team could step in and

continue to deliver health care to our community. Our team was amazing, and so accommodating of all the changes. The idea of not being able to deliver pharmacy care seven days a week, like we have for over 40 years, was simply unthinkable.

While we had always embraced technology as part of our delivery of medicines and health care, never has it been so important. We were receiving a huge percentage of the prescriptions we would process each day by email, instead of in-person. Our community embraced our medicines app, which allows them to pre-order prescriptions, and even pay and arrange delivery from their device. We commenced a home delivery program that allowed our community to track our journey live as their medicines arrived directly to their door. Despite this, we found our in-person services really critical too. Offering services like influenza vaccinations helped to keep the community connected, and offered the human interaction that people so desperately need in tough times, particularly when loneliness creeps in.

The lessons we’ve learnt from COVID-19 have been huge. While I am a pharmacist, I often say my job is to help and talk to people for a living. This is something I have always felt very lucky to be able to do, but even more so at a time where there have been physical and emotional barriers for our community to overcome. While we certainly have some difficult months ahead, I’m inspired by the way we’ve been able to adapt and meet challenges. A big thank you needs to go to our entire team and community, who have embraced this journey every step of the way.

Elise Apolloni, Managing Partner, Capital Chemist Wanniassa 

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