NEW ORLEANS -- Retail pharmacy operators, including CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens and Wal-Mart Stores, deployed mobile units to areas affected by the deadly hurricane Katrina.
"Essentially, the mobile units are trailers with full-fledged pharmacies inside," said Jody Cook, spokeswoman for Rite Aid, Camp Hill, Pa. In all cases, the units are fully stocked with prescriptions and staffed by store pharmacists and pharmacy technicians.
CVS/pharmacy, Woon-socket, R.I., dispatched three units in Texas over the past week for use at the Houston Astrodome, the Austin Convention Center and Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio. An additional 30 units are ready for use as needed.
Rite Aid told SN that it sent three pharmacy units to Mobile, Ala., D'iberville, Miss., and Waveland, Miss., and is prepared to dispatch five additional units. Walgreens, Deerfield, Ill., has units at the Houston and Dallas Convention centers in Texas while Wal-Mart, Bentonville, Ark., has also established mobile pharmacies in affected areas.
"Pharmacy is one of the most essential services in any community," said Mike DeAngelis, manager of corporate communications for CVS. Mobile pharmacies have been used by CVS and other retail pharmacies in the past to assist customers at store locations where the store pharmacy may have been taken off line due to electrical problems or damage from fires or natural disasters.
Rite Aid and Walgreens also have used emergency trailers previous to Hurricane Katrina but "not to this extent and not to service such a large number of evacuees," said Carol Hively, Walgreens corporate spokeswoman.
"We are mobilizing more than we ever have in the past, and in that context, this use of the mobile pharmacies is unique," DeAngelis said. CVS trailers are stocked with electronics, including cash registers and pharmacy computers, as well as medications and certified pharmacists.
Satellite-linked systems allow both customers and non-customers of these pharmacies to have prescriptions filled via remote computers located inside the trailers.
For evacuees whose information is not reachable via satellite, pharmacists are proceeding on a case-by-case basis. "We tell our pharmacists to use professional discretion, but in most cases, where no proof can be provided, a temporary prescription can be filled and the patient will be advised to go to the nearest emergency room or clinic to obtain a prescription," Cook said.
All members of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores are working with the affected states' boards of pharmacy and state and federal Medicaid offices to do everything they can to be compliant with any regulations, Michelle McKenna, spokeswoman for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores told SN. "Legal concerns are paramount, but the first priority, frankly, is saving lives."