by Jen Baker BScPhm
Years from now, when my future self reflects on the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be with a wide range of emotions. I will feel sadness, remembering the family, friends, colleague and patients who contracted COVID-19 with serious and potentially deadly consequences. My heart will race with familiar bursts of fear and worry for the safety of others, for the state of our economy and the lasting effects that this pandemic will continue to have on our lives into the foreseeable future. I will ache with concern about the effect that self-isolation has on the one in five Canadians who live with mental health conditions. But through the memories of all these negative feelings, I will also feel immense pride in my pharmacy professional colleagues, who supported each other and showed quiet courage during the most frightening outbreak of infectious disease in my lifetime. I will reflect on a feeling of solidarity and community that emerged within my profession which carried us through these exceptionally difficult times. The pharmacist I will be in the future will be grateful for the advances that came to my practice of pharmacy during this crisis, due to the tireless advocacy work done by our provincial and national associations.
Advocacy work is a complicated and challenging beast at the best of times – one that is slow, stubborn and ultimately doesn’t always yield to evidence and reason. An endless number of stakeholders are engaged in the same process, making the case for their own interests and detracting from the merits of others. Limited budgets and lack of coordination between sectors can grind even the most logical of requests to a standstill. Timelines for decisions can take months or even years and implementation of changes can be even more laggardly. Media coverage can be critical and one-sided and either help our hinder our efforts. At the Ontario Pharmacists Association, this is our accepted reality, and we push on despite the difficulties not only because our mandate encompasses advocacy for pharmacy professionals, but ultimately because it is the right thing to do.
During a declared emergency such as COVID-19, advocacy works more quickly and there are opportunities to position pharmacy to close patient care gaps that are exacerbated by the additional strain on the system and the reduced access to healthcare providers. Government decisions are made much more rapidly because our governments are able to implement emergency orders without going through the normal legislative channels. This presents great opportunity to achieve advances that will help pharmacy professionals and patients during, and potentially after, the crisis situation.
Advocacy work in Ontario has focused on protecting the drug supply, essential healthcare worker designation, advanced scope to fill gaps and economic support for community pharmacies. We have already achieved support for 30-day dispensing, the enabling of virtual care through MedsCheck, a moratorium on pharmacy audits and expediting Exceptional Access Program, Trillium and Seniors’ Copayment applications. Active advocacy is ongoing to expedite the implementation of prescribing for common ailments, emergency prescribing and therapeutic substitution, the suspension of the second and third copayments on the change from 90-day dispensing, and economic relief for community pharmacies that are experiencing drastically enhanced delivery costs. We are optimistic about the progress made to date on these files as we work tirelessly to get them across the finish line, and implement them as quickly as possible in pharmacies across Ontario for our patients’ benefit.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has drastically changed the world that we live in. We are all questioning what the future will look like once this pandemic is over. It can be exceptionally challenging to stay positive when fear and uncertainty seem to dominate other emotions. Fortunately, we are pharmacy professionals – we are far from powerless as we care for the health of our communities. Through the chaos of COVID-19, I see a brighter future for pharmacy – one with greater opportunity and recognition of pharmacy professionals as critical healthcare workers in all practice settings. At a time where hope and optimism are essential but sometimes hard to summon, we can look to each other for inspiration, motivation and comfort, and for that I am truly grateful.
Jen Baker BScPhm is the Director, Pharmacy Innovation at Whole Health Pharmacy and Chair of the Board of Directors, Ontario Pharmacists Association