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    Pharmacists Tackle Hurricane Harvey

    In the midst of unprecedented disaster, pharmacists and pharmacies were prepared.

    Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast last Friday and then stalled there as a tropical storm, leading to massive flooding that forced thousands of evacuations. Huge areas have been left without power or road access, creating a nightmare for those still caught in the storm. Experts are calling the amount of rainfall “unprecedented;” the National Weather Service even had to update their rainfall scales with more colors to accurately map the disaster. The storm hit Louisiana today and is expected to work its way further up, reaching as far north as Kentucky on Saturday.

    Related article: One pharmacist's report from the eye of the storm

    But even in the middle of this nightmare, health-care providers still continue to operate. Several hospitals, especially in Houston and its surrounding areas, have been forced to evacuate—in one case, rising flood waters made an evacuation impossible just hours after the order had been given. But many more continue to operate, in spite of difficulty transporting patients and for health-care workers to get to work.

    Pharmacists Answer the Call

    Figure 1Fig. 1Pharmacists are also there in the thick of it. The latest data from HealthcareReady, an organization that tracks health-care site availability in emergency areas, shows that 18 counties are currently operating with less than 75% of pharmacies open. See Fig. 1 for more data; counties in green are operating with at least 90% of pharmacies open, counties in yellow have between 75% and 90% of pharmacies open, and red are counties operating with less than 75% of pharmacies in operation.

    Even when stores are closed, pharmacists are on the move. HEB and Walmart both sent mobile pharmacies to affected areas, allowing pharmacists from other areas to help out. CVS will be also be sending out mobile pharmacies, and the chain has also committed to donate $200,000 in cash and supplies.

    HHS tweeted out a video of pharmacists preparing antibiotics and other treatments. Pharmacy organizations are helping out too: NCPA, APhA, and ASHP have all said that they are reaching out to members in affected areas and are trying to help wherever they can and where they are needed.

    But in spite of the terrible storms, many say that the problems are not as bad as they could have been for pharmacies. Audra L. Conwell, CAE, Executive Director and CEO of the Alliance of Independent Pharmacists of Texas, told Drug Topics that because the governor was so quick to declare a state of emergency, it allowed state boards to prepare for the onslaught.

    Popular on the web: Top 7 Weirdest Pharmacy Robberies

    Under the state of emergency, all pharmacists in Texas have been granted temporary dispensing powers. Pharmacists can refill a prescription (up to a 30-day prescription) even if the prescriber cannot be reached, based on their discretion. This does not apply to Schedule II control substances, potentially negatively affecting pain patients. Under the CMS 1135 waiver program instituted in states of emergency, certain Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP requirements have been waived. Insurance providers are responding to the emergency to make it easier for patients; many, such as UnitedHealthcare and Aetna, are making it possible for patients to refill their medications early. CVS Caremark, CVS’s PBM, will provide one-time emergency refills of a 10-day supply of medication for plan members at local pharmacies in affected areas.

    Up next: Chain and independent pharmacies respond

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