That's the message Taupō pharmacist Mike Riordan has for the people who queued outside for up to 45 minutes before they received their scripts during Covid-19 alert level 4 lockdown.
"For our loyal and supportive customers, to actually make them queue outside our pharmacy was so brutal," said Riordan.
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In the weekend before lockdown Riordan and business partner pharmacist Ayman Al Ibousi changed their business model six to eight times. Two factors were underpinning their thinking. They wanted to be open to the public but they also had to protect their staff from the coronavirus.
"You can't be a community pharmacy and not be there for the community. On the other hand Ministry of Health came out with requirements saying 'if someone with Covid-19 comes into the pharmacy then all staff that are present have to go home for two weeks of isolation'. We realised we needed to split our staff into teams and operate from only two of our four pharmacies," said Riordan.
He and Al Ibousi own four Taupō pharmacies and employ 24 people. When New Zealand went into Covid-19 level 4 at 11.59pm on Wednesday March 25, the pharmacies at Taupō Health Centre and Taupō Medical Centre were closed and staff deployed to the Great Lake Pharmacy on Tongariro St. The Mainstreet Pharmacy continued to operate.
"We basically said to our staff, 'What do you want to do?'
"There were some who said they absolutely could not come to the pharmacy. There were some who committed to be on the frontline and deal with the public. There were others who said they could dispense medicine at the back but were not able to deal with the public," said Riordan.
He says he is very proud of the frontline staff who served customers during level 4. He says they put their own families' bubbles at risk so they could serve their community. He calls them heroes.
"It was a massive risk. I could imagine the conversations going on at the dinner tables of our staff who elected to be on the frontline. I knew their families might ask them not to do it, be worried they would bring home the virus to their family."
The first few weeks were challenging at Great Lake Pharmacy. Double the normal amount of scripts were issued and 250 flu vaccines were given over the first two weeks of level 4.
"Prescriptions are so important. I can understand people wanting to get their medicine when they felt were going to lose control of their lives [because of the pandemic]."
The service delivery model changed six to eight times daily during that first week of lockdown.
"We would do something and it would become not fit-for-purpose. We had to change the way we operated all the time. In the early days there were no criteria.
"We were so pleased it didn't rain, having to make people wait outside in the cold was so hard to deal with. People were so understanding," said Riordan.
At the moment, he says, overall script numbers are down because people are not going out to see their doctor. The three pharmacies have now established a delivery service so people don't have to risk breaking their bubble to get their medicine.
From a retail point of view, he said, the two pharmacies did minimal retail trade for seven weeks over the lockdown period.
"I've been retailing in Taupō since 2001. I've traded through the global financial crisis and other retail challenges. And now this."
Adapting to the changing times has meant the Great Lake Pharmacy closing, and pharmacy services being merged with the other three pharmacies. He says they have managed to retain all staff. The pharmacies at the Taupō Medical Centre and the Taupō Health Centre are now dispensing scripts with level 2 rules applying.
Riordan says getting through the pandemic is like getting up every day to fight a gorilla. He says you don't give up when you are tired, you give up when the gorilla is tired.
"The trouble with Covid-19 is there just seems to be another gorilla."