SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Patients, customers and staff at the 82nd Medical Group here have seen some noticeable differences in operations the past several weeks, all part of a set of precautions to keep everyone as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Notable changes people will see is the single point of entry at the 82nd MDG Clinic main entrance, and a few visible modifications in the pharmacy and some of its functions. The success and effectiveness of these changes, leadership said, are due to the commitment and dedication of clinic staff to combat COVID-19.
Lt. Col. Dale DeSalis, 82nd MDG chief nurse, said anyone entering the clinic will be screened upon arrival at the single point of entry for any symptoms of COVID-19 to include questions about overall health and travel. They will also have their temperature taken.
“Members will enter the facility through a single point of entry at the pharmacy entrance, and will be required to wear their own face mask or face cover while in the facility,” he said. “There, they will be met by medical staff to conduct the screening.”
DeSalis said those who screen positive for symptoms – temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath – will then be sent to a triage area for further evaluation.
He said a challenge of the single point of entry for the clinic is it reduces the convenience of using other entrances to get to specific areas in the facility. However, it also allows the MDG to mitigate the exposure risks of staff, patients and other guests to the clinic.
Lt. Col. Ryan Gassman, 82nd Medical Support Squadron having oversight of pharmacy operations, said the ability to make changes quickly and effectively are indicative of the efforts of staff in the face of adversity.
“We’ve been extremely impressed with their resilience and positive attitude during this entire pandemic,” he said. “Their motivation and desire to serve their country and patients – wherever and whenever needed – is unwavering and inspiring.”
That can be seen in the pharmacy’s most significant change, which has been the opening of the drive-thru satellite pharmacy in the former Sheppard Bank building near the Base Exchange and Commissary. The service began on March 23, 2020, as a means to reduce the amount of patient traffic to the main pharmacy by more than 70 percent and provide an efficient and safe way to get medications to beneficiaries.
The satellite pharmacy, which is open from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m., has been convenient, but has also posed a few challenges for staff, Gassman said. Because prescriptions are processed at the main pharmacy and transported to the satellite location, wait times had to be increased to accommodate the preparation time. Refills and non-acute medications are available in two duty days, while staff works to have acute medications like antibiotics and hospital discharge medications filled and available at the satellite pharmacy in two hours.
The drive-thru location has been, quite literally, a nice change of scenery for some pharmacy staff.
Airman 1st Class Christian Shink, for example, said he’s accustomed to working in a secure area with no outside windows. The satellite pharmacy, however, gives him the opportunity to provide a service to patients in the outdoors.
Staff Sgt. Teresa Ibarra said it has also been a positive experience for patients.
“They love it,” she said. “The line moves so fast.”
Gassman said other challenges have been the outdated infrastructure of the old facility that now houses the satellite pharmacy, and staffing issues to operate the new service. But, he said, the 82nd Communication Squadron and 82nd Healthcare Operations Squadron both stepped up to help address those issues.
Additional changes made at the main pharmacy includes placing all-metal chairs in the guest seating area that are easier to disinfect; providing adequate distance between each chair; installing plexiglass in pharmacy windows; no-touch ID card scanning; and adjusting the phone tree to allow for over-the-phone activation of prescriptions.
“All of these measures are designed to protect both patients and staff from potential COVID-19 exposure,” Gassman said. “For many of our patients with serious underlying health conditions, a visit to a typical pharmacy waiting room can be the most dangerous thing they do.
“We want to ensure all of our patients retain access to their medications without placing themselves at unnecessary risk.”