Sterling Rx owner and pharmacist Curtis Omelchuk gives Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu a tour of the pharmacy on March 10, 2022. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Sterling Rx owner and pharmacist Curtis Omelchuk gives Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu a tour of the pharmacy on March 10, 2022. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)

Vernon-Monashee MLA tours local pharmacy in search of healthcare improvements

The pandemic has revealed just how underutilized pharmacists are in B.C.’s healthcare system

With B.C.’s health care system under strain, Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu went to a local pharmacy in search of solutions.

Curtis Omelchuk, owner and pharmacist at Sterling Rx in Vernon, gave Sandhu a tour of the pharmacy March 10, with the goal of showing one of two health care workers in the B.C. legislative assembly how underutilized pharmacists are in the health care system.

“Pharmacists, with the level of schooling they have and the background they have … they are really well educated,” said Sandhu.

Many British Columbians are without a family doctor and Sandhu, a nurse at Vernon Jubilee Hospital, has seen ER lineups lengthen over the years.

Omelchuk says those lines could be shortened by allowing pharmacists to carry more of the load.

“Pharmacists need to be able to have more services available in our province,” said Omelchuk. “Everybody’s getting overloaded, more than ever, and now’s the perfect time to get our profession more involved. We’re ready. Everybody’s ready, we’re willing and we’re trained.”

He says treatment of minor ailments, initiating prescriptions for set conditions, refilling prescriptions more freely and interpreting lab results to alter therapy are all services that pharmacists can and should be allowed to provide.

For example, instead of waiting up to three hours at emergency to treat a case of strep throat, patients could be getting swabbed at their local pharmacy in a fraction of the time.

Pharmacists have been instrumental in B.C.’s vaccination campaign, and on top of providing vaccines and rapid test kits, the pandemic saw pharmacists emerge as essential sources of COVID-19 information. Omelchuk says phones have been ringing off the hook with people asking whether their kids need to be tested, if they can travel, if they’re required to isolate and so on.

“We educated ourselves about COVID so we can educate our patients,” Omelchuk said.

The deluge of COVID-19 questions is partly because pharmacists are the most accessible health care professionals around; all you need to do is pick up the phone or come speak to them across the counter. That accessibility is in turn part of the reason that pharmacists are viewed by some as the best way to address backlogs at hospitals and clinics.

While at Sterling, Sandhu mentioned Premier John Horgan had recently appointed her to a new health committee, along with B.C.’s other MLA nurse, Susie Chant of North Vancouver — Seymour.

“It’s been struck by the government and premier to continuously find ways to improve, because the B.C. NDP are big supporters of well-funded, well-supported health care,” she said.

Sandu said she’ll be bringing her findings from this and other local pharmacies with her to Victoria and her work on the committee.

“People don’t realize that we have 11,000 pharmacies across Canada, perhaps more, and 45,000 pharmacists and 9,900 pharmacy techs … so there’s a lot of force behind work that’s helping people to support their health, mental health and filling the health care gaps,” she said.

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Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
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