There has been a recent story in the news about a Publix Pharmacy employee, Alvin Ahmed, who went missing after his shift at his pharmacy about a week ago. There hasn’t been many updates so far except for Facebook posts by Alvin’s brother, Kalvin. I cannot imagine what him and his family must be going through. But, in a recent post Kalvin mentioned he hoped this situation would bring awareness to prevent this from happening to someone else and with that in mind, I hope this article provides some best practices that every pharmacy individual could follow to do just that.
This is a tough one to put into practice since a lot of companies require employees to park in certain areas to allow convenience to customers. But, in my opinion, this rule should not be applied to pharmacy employees. People who work in a pharmacy have interactions with people that can have a significant affect on their quality of life. There are times patients feel as if pharmacy employees intentionally make their lives miserable and could possibly want to cause harm to said pharmacy employee. In addition, our patients can be suffering from a mental illness which may ultimately lead to a violent altercation. And for these reasons, if your pharmacy does have a policy where employees must park far from the entrance, I would ask for some sort of exception or change to that policy for pharmacy employees.
When pharmacists are done with our shift we close up and just walk straight out to our car. I know the feeling, we want to get home as soon as possible to recover from the last 12 hours. But you should always take off your white coat before leaving the pharmacy. And don’t just take it off and throw it over your arm. I would even go as far as taking off your coat, folding it, and putting it into a plastic bag and then leave the pharmacy.
Loud noises are an amazing method of defense. Although any whistle would do the trick, Amazon has these disaster whistles that are deafening when used and is an awesome self defense tool. Try to keep one with your keys or in your pocket.
I know there is probably a million other things your store manager may be dealing with, but ensuring a well lit parking lot should be made a priority. So, if you feel like your normal lighting (or if a light is out) doesn’t provide for a safe walk to and from your car, I would mention something to the store manager. And I would mention it using an email, possibly copying your supervisor on it. It’s more likely to be acted on, especially in the name of safety, when an email is sent with someone else “watching.” And don’t forget to follow up!
I understand this is not always possible, especially when pharmacists have to stay late to try and finish off everything for the day. But if possible, try to use the buddy system and walk to your car with someone from your team when your shift is over. However, if there is a day where you’re by yourself and you may have gotten into an altercation with a patient, or even threatened, I would make sure to have someone from your store walk with you to your car.
If it’s not feasible with having someone with you at the store to walk out with, call someone on the phone when you leave work. But, it is important to note, until you get to your car, try to remain cognizant of your surroundings! We all know how distracting a phone call with the bestie can be. And please, what ever you do, don’t walk out of the pharmacy and just have your face in your phone scrolling though Instagram or Facebook, this is a sure way to have no idea what’s going on around you.
Nothing much to add to this except if you decide to carry a pepper spray I would make sure to practice using it. You don’t want your first time using this to be in an emergency. And I’ll be honest, I think most pharmacies have a policy against having pepper spray, but I know many pharmacists who carry this on them, anyway.
Don’t unlock your car with your remote until you’re close to your car. If you do, this can make people aware of exactly which is your car ahead of time. While it is a good idea to have your keys in your hand ready to go, don’t unlock the doors until you’re close.
Most pharmacies have cameras outside monitoring entrances and parking lots, but if yours does not, follow my advice in step 4 in reaching out via email to your store manager and copying your supervisor to ask for some.
Because, you just really never know.
While I can understand this is a scary situation, I think it is an important topic to talk about to ensure your preparedness and hopefully prevent the unthinkable.
Thanks for reading.
Richard Waithe, PharmD | Richard@vucahealth.com
Dr. Richard is the Founder of MedVize, a personal medication management company and is the host of Rx Radio, a podcast dedicated the pharmacy profession. He is a pharmacist who is committed to helping individuals better manage their health and medications. He is passionate about advancing the profession of pharmacy with a focus on machine learning and blockchain technologies. His mission is to provide people with understandable knowledge to best manage their health while ensuring their medications are convenient, affordable, safe, and effective. Dr. Richard holds a Doctorate of Pharmacy from the University of Florida, and fun fact, although living in sunny Miami, Florida, he loves snowboarding.