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Connecticut Pharmacists Face Big Challenges During COVID-19 Pandemic

Doctors and nurses are finding themselves on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. But other health care workers are also putting themselves on front lines every day: pharmacists. 

Joe Petricone Jr., a pharmacist who owns Petricone’s Pharmacy in Torrington, Connecticut, said the COVID-19 pandemic has changed things big and small at his business. Take, for example, signing your name. It used to be you’d swipe a credit card and think nothing of picking up a stylus to scribble a signature. 

But “right now, we’re not letting people touch our pens,” said Petricone, whose business employs about 22 people. 

“We’ve had one insurance company recommend that we can write, ‘COVID’ as their signature for now, but that’s only one insurance company -- there’s many,” he said. “We’d like to get that streamlined … because that’s a tricky thing right now. We don’t want to be handing pens out to everybody and contaminating things.”

Since COVID-19 made its way across the globe and to the United States, Petricone said his business has adjusted in other ways, too. The pharmacy’s store space is closed to customers. Business is done via delivery or curbside pickup.

“We have a tent set up outside. And a sign saying if they need us, they can call our phone number or knock on the door,” Petricone said. “A lot of people, they’re asking for a lot of the same things that are unavailable everywhere: thermometers, hand sanitizer, masks.”

Credit Ryan Caron King/Connecticut Public
Pharmacy technician Cliff Sweeney looks through a basket of prescriptions ready for pickup at Petricone's Pharmacy in Torrington.

Nathan Tinker, CEO of the Connecticut Pharmacists Association, said pharmacists are trying to plan now to avoid potential supply issues a few weeks out. 

“Are there going to be significant disruptions in the supply chain?” Tinker asked. “Are they going to be able to get insulin? Are they going to be able to get these other drugs that are high-volume, high-usage in the population and have relatively short shelf lives. These are the sorts of things we don’t know yet.”

Take hand sanitizer. Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order allowing pharmacies to make their own. But Tinker said wholesalers don’t have the ingredients. 

“Even the pharmacies can’t get ahold of the isopropyl alcohol or ethanol at the levels required in order to manufacture this. So that’s one iteration of what the supply chain problem could be going forward,” Tinker said.

Petricone said running a pharmacy has never been a path to riches. Battles with insurance companies over reimbursement are nonstop, and added social distance measures have layered on additional expenses -- like a spike in demand for at-home deliveries. 

“We’re busier,” Petricone said. “I’d like to say busier means more profit, but not in this business.” 

Credit Ryan Caron King/Connecticut Public
Pharmacy owner Joseph Petricone Jr. waits for a staff member to let him into the building. Since the pharmacy has shifted to curbside pickup and delivery only, Petricone's Pharmacy doors have been locked during business hours.

Petricone said customers should try to “be as diligent” as possible about refilling prescriptions. And if the state or federal government could take any action to extend the refill windows for certain prescriptions, he’d welcome it. 

“With people’s anxiety, they want to have a little more on hand,” Petricone said. “People need to be very organized in what they have for medications and making sure they’re ordering things in a sufficient manner -- not waiting until the last minute -- because we’re all being pushed to the limit right now, trying to get stuff out as fast as we can.”

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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