Shots and Scripts: MSU Health Care Pharmacy helps patients navigate the pandemic

October 20, 2021

In March 2020, much of the world was put on pause due to COVID-19, including the hustle and bustle of life on Michigan State University’s campus. But for frontline health care workers, the hard work was only beginning. As the fully integrated academic health care center for the university, MSU Health Care was challenged with keeping the Spartan community safe during a pandemic, while still providing an enhanced level of care.

Whether administering COVID-19 vaccinations or making sure customers could safely obtain their prescriptions, the MSU Health Care Pharmacy has remained steadfast in its support for MSU faculty and staff, retirees, students and patients.

MSU Health Care Pharmacy director Sandra Campbell, PharmD, is a 1993 College of Natural Science alumna who has been with the university for 16 years. As pharmacy director, she says the first and most important step in Spring 2020 was keeping her staff and customers safe. Social distancing, sufficient PPE and supplies, new cleaning practices and offering remote work options to some staff were all implemented in the early months of the pandemic. Still, the pharmacy couldn’t entirely mitigate its in-person transactions with customers.

On average, the pharmacy fills 74,000 prescriptions annually. Introducing services such as free curbside pickup and extended hours on Saturdays provided customers with safe options for obtaining their prescriptions. Another gamechanger: the launch of free home delivery. “I instituted a 30-mile radius for home delivery, encompassing quite a few of our customers that live in areas where it’s hard to get to the pharmacy,” Campbell said. “Prior to COVID, we were only delivering on campus.”

Overall, MSU Health Care Pharmacy converted 65% of finished prescriptions to either home delivery or curbside pickup. Campbell says the staff also encouraged patients to obtain 90-day refills, ensuring there would be no disruption or shortage of their medications. When the pharmacy’s new, expanded location at 4660 South Hagadorn Road opened in Fall 2020, the extra space allowed for upgraded equipment and services for its patients.

With the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine, MSU Health Care Pharmacy staff stepped up in a new way. When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Pharmacists Association expanded the role of administering vaccines to include pharmacy technicians, Campbell encouraged her staff to look into the program in early 2021.

Technician Mary Passage was among the first to volunteer to complete the training and participate in the vaccine rollout. Passage, an MSU alumna, began working as a student employee for the Clinical Center Pharmacy before being offered a full-time technician position in 2001. Having been a part of MSU Health Care for over 24 years, the pandemic provided an opportunity to further expand her role.

“It was becoming more and more clear that pharmacies would be vital in administering the COVID vaccine as soon as it was made available to the entire population,” Passage said. “I also thought about all the volunteer vaccinators at the MSU Pavilion and knew that having the training would mean being able to help in more ways. A return to ‘normal’ was something that could be reached by vaccinations, and I wanted to be a part of making that happen.”

Since May 2021, MSU Health Care Pharmacy has administered 2,000 COVID-19 vaccinations. In addition, Passage and other MSU Health Care Pharmacy staff have stayed up-to-date on regulations and information about COVID-19, providing the most accurate information and support for their customers.

This fall brings yet another challenge for the MSU Health Care Pharmacy, with the overlap of COVID-19 vaccinations and flu season. A new scheduling tool is set to be implemented in October, allowing customers to schedule their flu shots in addition to COVID-19 boosters and other vaccines. It may seem like a lot, but Campbell says her pharmacy staff are ready to go.

“We have our workflow in place, and we’ve been vaccinating for awhile now,” Campbell said. “We were probably one of the first pioneers in vaccinating large groups. We’ve always had a presence at the MSU Benefits Fair at Breslin Center, where we vaccinated close to 1,000 people a day with flu shots. For us, it’s a very natural fit to be able to vaccinate at peak times. I anticipate it to go very well.”