Recognize the Problem and Find the Solution

Pharmacist Rebecca Sorrell (left) meets altruistic community member Laquita Cole at Ritch’s Pharmacy in Mountain Brook, Alabama, for the first time.

“My mom always said, ‘Come to me with solutions and not problems, and we’ll get along a whole lot better,’” said Rebecca Jones Sorrell, RPh, co-owner with her husband Ralph E. Sorrell Jr., RPh, of Ritch’s Pharmacy in Mountain Brook, Alabama. Laquita Cole, a Social Security Administration worker, did just that when her employer placed her and many of her coworkers on leave during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cole, who is blind, took it upon herself to use her telephone and voice-activated support calling program to talk with community members and address their vaccination needs by referring them to Ritch’s Pharmacy.

“Ms. Cole called people from her neighborhood, church, and work asking them if they had received the vaccine or had had the opportunity to sign up for it,” said Sorrell. “She would tell me, ‘I’d like to send some people your way’ or ‘I got one more person,’ and I would tell her ‘We’d be glad to take care of them.’”

Out of the kindness of her heart, Cole made appointments for people, arranged rides through community transport services, and made follow-up calls for second doses. Once, she even stayed on the phone with a man who was terrified of needles to support him while getting the vaccination.

Sorrell described Cole’s efforts saying, “She chose to set up appointments with our pharmacy because we answer our phones, and she can talk to us directly; automated scheduling programs on computers are not an option for her because of her vision loss.” Cole learned about Ritch’s Pharmacy through social media platforms and conversations. She made things easier for many people who did not have computer access or skills and needed help with the process. Sorrell said, “With each call, she thanked us for what we were doing to help her community and friends in need.”

After the initial rush of immunizing people based on state guidelines, Ritch’s Pharmacy searched for other ways to address the community’s needs. Sorrell reached out to independent restaurants, under the guidance of her church’s outreach minister, to provide opportunities to local restaurant staff. “A lot of the restaurant employees are minimum wage. Many haven’t had the chance to get vaccinated, because they might juggle a couple jobs and family—it’s not that they’re against it,” said Sorrell.

However, fear consumed undocumented people in the community who are relatives of the restaurant workers. “We didn’t ask too many questions. All we asked for were names and birth dates,” said Sorrell. Many of the restaurant workers were appreciative that Sorrell and her team brought the COVID-19 vaccine to them.

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Ritch’s Pharmacy has also helped populations that are often overlooked, including patients with special needs. “We have at-risk patients younger than 65 years, and they need to be taken into consideration,” said Sorrell. “Often, if they get infected with something, they don’t make it. If we had an extra dose, it was never wasted. We reached out to our special needs population and took care of them.”

To serve this population, Ritch’s Pharmacy offered drive-through clinics and curbside service, because people were hesitant to go into the pharmacy. “We took the shot out to them. But not everybody who is disabled is the same in their abilities or capabilities,” said Sorrell. “If somebody is wheelchair-bound and has to be in a certain position because their body is unnaturally curved, sometimes the person can’t hang an arm out a [car] door window to get the vaccine.” Yet, Sorrell’s staff always finds a way to get shots in arms, even if it means getting in the vehicle with the patient.

To date, Ritch’s Pharmacy has given 8,824 doses to patients from over 20 zip codes. “Ms. Cole is responsible for helping influence close to 100 of her community members get their COVID-19 vaccinations, with 70 people getting the vaccine with us,” said Sorrell.

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