By Sally Haase
(September 7, 2022) —Greg McKenna is Haddam’s hidden asset, concludes nurse Pat Strom, describing our pharmacist at Nutmeg Pharmacy in Higganum, with whom she’s worked on many health clinics. The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) agreed and recommended Greg for the 2022 Connecticut Immunization Champion Award given by the Association of Immunization Managers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Walking into Nutmeg Pharmacy, patrons sense the feeling of a hometown pharmacy. You are greeted with a smile and most often greeted by name. In the twelve years that Greg McKenna has served the townspeople of Haddam, he and his staff have become an integral part of the community, caring for and caring about its citizens. Greg’s advertisements in this paper were short educational topics on health issues. Meanwhile, he was growing a string of pharmacies and all was good. Then came the Coronavirus.
Suddenly, it was a new ball game, a pandemic. The world knew nothing about the virus or how to contain it and then treat it. Masks, sanitizers and social distancing were the only guidelines we had to combat the rapidly spreading disease. Early on, Greg purchased special freezers for his pharmacies to store the anticipated arrival of a vaccine. And then he waited.
Operation Warp Speed, an accelerated attempt to develop a new type of vaccine, mRNA, resulted in emergency-use authorization to begin distribution to caregivers and first responders, followed by the most vulnerable in December 2020.
Here in Connecticut, what were the plans? How were we to inoculate 3.5 million people? DPH approached Greg to complete the vaccination protocol for nursing home residents. With little hesitation, Greg agreed to head up a plan to vaccinate nursing home residents with the help of National Guardsmen. When the call ended, Greg thought, “Oh my God, what do I do now?”
He immediately set up a team to plan and execute the task he had been given. From Nutmeg’s staff, Ron Soper, pharmacist and IT specialist, wrote a program to identify candidates for vaccination, dispense the vaccine and then track the usage and the individuals receiving the vaccine.
Using Ron’s program, Beth-Ann LaRosa, his office manager, would organize and manage the distribution with the National Guard and, later, the clinics. Alicia Cope, Nutmeg’s lead pharmacy technician, would coordinate the billing and the recording of shots given into the state tracking system.
That was Thursday. On Tuesday, they were ready to present their plan to DPH. And so it began. Greg and Carrie Montgomery, working with the Guard, set up procedures to ensure efficient distribution and tracking at more than one hundred facilities.
Greg’s team set up weekly vaccine clinics in the five towns his pharmacies served, depending on the amount of vaccine he was allotted. If any vaccine was left at the end of the day, the staff called and offered it to people on the waiting list to be sure not a drop was wasted. His pharmacies petitioned and trained volunteers from the communities. Working with the towns’ resources, his team compiled lists of elderly citizens and shut-ins. Vaccines were taken to people’s homes – people who were house-bound or people too afraid to leave the house. Always, along with these visits, were offers of comforting and calming words. At one point Greg thought as he looked around a clinic, “We, the community, are protecting ourselves!” Hidden asset, indeed. Who knew all that he was doing? This was said with no credit to himself.
On Friday, September 2nd, Greg received the 2022 Connecticut Immunization Champion Award. DPH Commissioner Dr. Manisha Juthani, and Kathy Kudish, Immunization Program Manager for DPH, (photo above) were there to present the award. The award is given to an individual who has shown leadership, collaboration, innovation and advocacy in promoting immunizations in their communities. Greg McKenna was the first pharmacist to receive this award. Among Greg’s accomplishments:
*Partnering with DPH, he worked with the National Guard to go into nursing homes and other assisted living facilities to vaccinate patients and staff.
* Early on, Nutmeg Pharmacy became a hub for distribution of Covid-19 vaccine, ensuring smaller practices that could not accommodate shipments had access to the vaccine, most of them in eastern Connecticut.
* During the pandemic, Greg filmed several videos, educating the public about Covid-19 and the vaccine and calming his customers’ fears.
What is next for Greg McKenna? Presently, he is working with legislators to expand the authority of pharmacies to be given full provider status. In addition, as Greg tells it, patients see their doctors a few times a year, but pharmacists see their customers perhaps eight times a month. ”Look at the value. Pharmacists can provide info on a timely basis to MDs about a patient so they can better treat that patient, versus waiting months to get a follow-up visit. Would you wait three months to see if a new diabetic medication is working versus seven days? Pharmacists can provide essential services efficiently and more economically,” says Greg with resolve. His aim is to encourage all his customers to call their legislators in support of full provider status.
Jo Ann Woickelman of Haddam’s Committee on Aging said she was “happy to see that Greg is finally getting the recognition he deserves for all he has done for the community.” He has reached outside of our small town, challenging himself and his staff to tackle an unknown crisis with courage and determination. Undeniably, Greg McKenna, our hometown pharmacist, is Haddam’s hidden asset… for Haddam and beyond.
Award Photo by Ed Munster
Vaccination Photo by Brian Scott-Smith