Wolf Pack pharmacy: the first line of defense

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tyrone Rocha, 8th Medical Support Squadron NCO in charge of pharmaceutical services, checks inventory at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, May 6, 2020. The pharmacy team provides medical support to over 2,500 members of the Wolf Pack to keep them fit to fight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Arends)
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tyrone Rocha, 8th Medical Support Squadron NCO in charge of pharmaceutical services, checks inventory at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, May 6, 2020. The pharmacy team provides medical support to over 2,500 members of the Wolf Pack to keep them fit to fight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Arends)

Wolf Pack pharmacy: the first line of defense

by Tech. Sgt. Joshua Arends
8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- The Airmen assigned to the 8th Medical Group clinic pharmacy are helping to ensure the Wolf Pack is fit to fight by supporting more than 2,500 military personnel at Kunsan Air Base.

The team distributes an average of 80 prescriptions per day. Unlike other military pharmacies that serve both active-duty personnel and retirees, the pharmacy at Kunsan only supports active-duty members assigned to the base. For patients, this results in shorter waiting times to receive their medication.

“Fifteen to twenty minutes is the average wait time for our patients,” said Tech Sgt. Tyrone Rocha, 8th Medical Support Squadron NCO in charge of pharmaceutical services. “We try to reach our target time to provide better customer service and improve overall quality of life.”

Beyond the initial distribution of medication, the mission of the pharmacy is comprised of several programs like the Self-Initiated Care Kit and Point of Distribution program. 

The most popular pharmacy program is the SICK program, which allows Airmen to receive over-the-counter medications after filling out a form declaring what kind of symptoms they are experiencing. This could include allergies, congestion, aches, pains and the common cold. SICK helps patients receive relief for minor afflictions, as well as relieves the case load for medical providers.

“If you need anything before seeing a doctor, with the over-the-counter system we have in place, the pharmacy is kind of like a first line of defense,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Levesque, 8th MDSS pharmacy technician. “But if the medicine doesn’t help, the next step is you getting an appointment to see a doctor.”

The POD program consists of the pharmacy team setting up medical support operations during outbreaks, such as the flu, or during wartime contingencies.

“In our disaster teams, we will activate everybody from our security to our medical control center, public health, etc.,” said Maj Alexander Brown, 8th MDSS chief of pharmacy. “Here, we try to do a POD or two a year, typically during training events, combined with a real-world requirement like flu immunizations.”

Brown is the main pharmacist and is aided by three NCOs who help screen, package and distribute medication to patients. His duties include ensuring patients are prescribed the correct dosage of medication, without negative side effects for the ailment being treated.

Between interaction with the medical providers, questions asked by the pharmacy technicians at the service window and the pharmacist reviewing the patient’s medical records, several screenings take place to ensure any and all possible negative reactions to a prescribed medication are prevented before the prescription is distributed.

“It’s a lot more than just putting pills in a bottle,” said Brown. “It’s more intricate than it appears because I’m looking for all those different details.”

When asked why a patient may be waiting an hour or longer for a prescription, Brown provided insight on what happens behind the scenes.

“Normally, it’s because we’re checking with the provider about the prescription,” explained Brown. “If in the system it says the patient is allergic to penicillin but they’re prescribed amoxicillin, which is in the same family, we have to wait until the provider is available, follow-up and ensure the prescription is adjusted. Depending on how busy the clinic is at the moment, this can take some time; but our number one goal is to ensure the safety of the patient.”

The pharmacy technicians are trained and certified to do medical screenings, should an emergency arise and Brown not be available to perform the mission. Brown is also trained to do the technician’s job if they are pulled away to augment other clinic requirements, including providing medical screening of patients for COVID-19 symptoms.

When the team is not filling prescriptions, they use the time to complete their training, certification and additional duties that support the clinic. The joint mission with other clinic teams helps to bring them together in support of the overall wing mission.

“Our overall mission really fosters relationships between people, and that’s what I believe the Wolf Pack is all about,” said Brown. “By keeping the pack ready to fight tonight, we support a mission that impacts a whole country and keeps millions of people safe.”

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