At the New Zealand Primary Health Care Awards last week a Te Awamutu pharmacy were recognised for their Covid-19 response and walked away with the New Zealand Community Pharmacy of the Year award.
Around half of the team from Sanders Pharmacy, including owner Gemma Perry, were at the awards ceremony on Saturday night at Cordis, Auckland to receive the award.
"We felt really good; we got really good feedback on the night and everyone was really happy," says Gemma.
"We were up against a really amazing pharmacy from Rotorua, Ranolf Pharmacy. I know the owner and they're doing amazing things in their community too so we really didn't know if we would win."
When Covid-19 started spreading across the world, Gemma recognised the risk early and completely changed the way her business and team operated to ensure theirs and their patients' safety.
"We had a pandemic meeting and a week before lockdown we actually decided to close the doors," says Gemma.
"We were one of the first pharmacies to say, well it's not safe to let customers in and wander around anymore - we needed to keep patients and staff safe."
Gemma then collaborated with her brother who owns businesses Fiasco and now Screen Serve.
Screen Serve was born from Covid-19. Gemma had told her brother that she needed some sort of screened system to keep safe distances from patients while still operating the pharmacy efficiently.
Within a week, he had built a Covid-19 safety screen system for her fitted with an integrated drawer allowing the supply of products to customers and patients and a speaker system allowing easy communication.
"They pivoted their business in order to help us and they went to provide them to other businesses around the country," says Gemma.
"And we had created this safe zone for customers."
This was just the beginning of their Covid-19 response though.
The 22-strong-team was split into three teams, going from normally having 15 staff members on a shift to just seven.
This was done to ensure that if a team member got Covid-19 then they would still be able to operate the pharmacy – but it meant they were operating it on a skeleton of a team.
And script orders only went up.
They had to increase their opening hours.
Mahoe Medical had recognised how busy they were and often sent over nurses and staff to help out.
"The nurses were manning our phones. The physios sent us staff. We were just after anybody and anyone that could answer a phone or serve a customer," says Gemma.
Driving Miss Daisy also came on board to help out with script deliveries to elderly who at the time were advised not to leave their houses.
At the same time of this all going on, they continued to keep offering flu vaccinations and had to create another separate safe and screened zone to do so.
And Gemma says they were doing more flu vaccinations than normal.
They were also recognised for their engagement with the community through their Facebook page.
"We did a heck of a lot on Facebook; we just wanted to regularly put out information on Facebook to keep our patients updated," says Gemma.
"They really liked the reassurance from seeing what we were actively doing to keep people safe."
Patients and customers had also loved that they had managed to get in Zoono hand sanitiser which provided 24-hour protection but was hard to access at the time.
The judges had also recognised how well they looked after their staff during the lockdown and afterwards.
It was important for Gemma to make sure her team felt supported given the circumstances.
"It was really scary for them, we were open seven days a week during lockdown and they had to come to work when everyone else they knew were getting to hang out at home," says Gemma.
When the lockdown was over, Gemma hosted many dinners to keep morale up and gifted everyone a $200 voucher to a local shop to encourage supporting and shopping local while thanking her staff for the work they had done.
And it was the extra services they offer that went towards them receiving the award.
Those services are consultations for advice when starting certain medications and that they have an on-site health coach, Vicki Macky.
"It's using what we call lifestyle medicine. Take someone with diabetes for instance – instead of putting them on medication we actually talk to them about how to completely get off and just treat their disease with diet and exercise. That's really unique," says Gemma.
In the works is also a type 2 diabetes reversal support group that they hope to offer in collaboration with Mahoe Medical Centre and Gemma says they are also planning to open a second pharmacy in Cambridge.
Gemma has owned Sanders Pharmacy since 2010, but it has been around in the community since 1953 when it was started by Bill Sanders.
In 2008 she won Young Pharmacist of the Year and the Supreme Award.
And in 2013, the pharmacy won the Dispensary Superstars award for their integration with Mahoe Medical Centre.
"I absolutely love being a pharmacist and helping people, I love seeing people get back to really good health after they've been sick or just helping them stay well in the first place," says Gemma.