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Ellsworth Pharmacy, more than medicine

The 28th Medical Support Squadron pharmacy is located in the foyer of the 28th Medical Group and safely provides medications to more than 33,000 beneficiaries a year. Prescriptions are first provided to the pharmacy electronically, faxed or brought in in paper form, and are activated by checking in at the counter or calling in. Once activated, labels are printed off for processing and dispensed prior to being put into a bottle. Finally, the pharmacist verifies that the number of pills inside the bottle coincides with the quantity annotated on the label before storing it for pickup. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Hailey R. Staker/Released)

The 28th Medical Support Squadron pharmacy is located in the foyer of the 28th Medical Group and safely provides medications to more than 33,000 beneficiaries a year. Prescriptions are first provided to the pharmacy electronically, faxed or brought in in paper form, and are activated by checking in at the counter or calling in. Once activated, labels are printed off for processing and dispensed prior to being put into a bottle. Finally, the pharmacist verifies that the number of pills inside the bottle coincides with the quantity annotated on the label before storing it for pickup. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Hailey R. Staker/Released)

Airman 1st Class Megan Cronin, 28th Medical Support Squadron pharmacy technician, removes a prescription from a Global Script Locator at the 28th MDSS pharmacy at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Jan. 13, 2016. The GSL is a secure cabinet that allows pharmacy technicians to store a patient’s medication when it is ready for pickup. Through the use of lights and alarms, they can safely track and dispense a patient’s medication in almost half the time it would normally take while still prioritizing patient safety. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Hailey R. Staker/Released)

Airman 1st Class Megan Cronin, 28th Medical Support Squadron pharmacy technician, removes a prescription from a Global Script Locator at the 28th MDSS pharmacy at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Jan. 13, 2016. The GSL is a secure cabinet that allows pharmacy technicians to store a patient’s medication when it is ready for pickup. Through the use of lights and alarms, they can safely track and dispense a patient’s medication in almost half the time it would normally take while still prioritizing patient safety. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Hailey R. Staker/Released)

Airman 1st Class Darius Longmire, 28th Medical Support Squadron pharmacy technician, removes a bottle of Vitamin D from the pharmacy stock shelf at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Jan. 13, 2016. Pharmacy technicians remove medication to fill prescriptions for customers, and fill an average of 13,000 per month, including new scripts and refills. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Hailey R. Staker/Released)

Airman 1st Class Darius Longmire, 28th Medical Support Squadron pharmacy technician, removes a bottle of Vitamin D from the pharmacy stock shelf at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Jan. 13, 2016. Pharmacy technicians remove medication to fill prescriptions for customers, and fill an average of 13,000 per month, including new scripts and refills. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Hailey R. Staker/Released)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- The Air Force's number one resource is Airmen, so a fit fighting force is pivotal to mission accomplishment.

Ellsworth AFB relies on the 28th Medical Support Squadron pharmacy to dispense medications safely to its patients and keep the base's Bomber Airmen healthy.

Providing more than 13,000 medications per month, ranging from pain and sleep meds to anxiety medication and autoimmune disease treatments, the pharmacy serves more than 33,000 beneficiaries annually.

"The mission of the pharmacy is to provide veterans, active-duty personnel and their dependents medications safely - safely being the key," said Capt. Anthony Changelo, 28th MDSS pharmacy element chief. "We also further the mission here at Ellsworth [AFB] by helping our deployers get the medications they'll need to deploy with, and making sure that, while they're downrange, they feel safe knowing their families are being taken care of at home."

The main services provided by the pharmacy include outpatient dispensing, the bulk of the pharmacy's workload, as well as the Coumadin clinic where pharmacists provide medications to high-risk patients for blood clotting, heart attacks and strokes.  

"I enjoy the diversity of what I do because it's not just pushing meds, it's also overseeing daily pharmacy operations, and as a member of the Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee, helping coordinate the clinic's medication policies and formularies," Changelo said. "In the retail setting, staff can order whatever they want, however, with the government being on contracts, we have to determine therapeutically equivalent medications necessary to provide optimal patient care while also managing resources."

In order to fill prescriptions, pharmacy technicians receive the script via a hard copy presented in person, fax or electronically by the doctor's office, and then it must be activated by the patient. To activate a script, patients must call into the pharmacy or visit the pick-up counter.

"We need patients to call in and say, 'my prescription is here,'" Changelo said. "We basically have 2,000 scripts that no one ever picks up, so typing them out and not having them picked up is a huge waste to the system, and a waste of time, money, and efficiency."

Once activated, a technician types the script and submits it into a drug interaction checker, which ensures the medications a patient is currently taking do not negatively interact with the new prescription.

"We also have electronic high-utilizer dispensing machines that automatically count out the medications for us, greatly helping to expedite the filling process," said Master Sgt. J'Valyn Vaughn, 28th Medical Group interim first sergeant. "Once counted, these medications go through the pharmacist for verification."

Changelo added another time-saver utilized by the pharmacy is the Global Script Locator, a prescription storage unit not many facilities have.

"One thing we have that most pharmacies in the country don't have and every pharmacist would want is the GSL," Changelo said with a smile. "Instead of medication going into a brown bag and sitting on a shelf once ready, everything is put into a magnetic cabinet case and then put into a locked shelf. That tells us exactly where we need to go to get the medication when the patient shows up. It's probably the sweetest thing in the pharmacy that saves time while increasing patient safety."

Although the pharmacy controls the amount of medication beneficiaries have access to at a time, they also provide a year-round service many know nothing about.

"We also have our medication return bin back in the clinic that allows patients to dispose of any unused or outdated medication, as opposed to these prescriptions just collecting dust in medicine cabinets," Vaughn said. "In order to legally dispose of medications, the bin is conveniently located inside of the lobby near the main entrance of the clinic, where patients can drop off all medications, with the exception of injectables. It allows safe disposal rather than flushing it down the toilet or throwing it in the trash, and helps keep unused medications out of the home and away from the children."

Whether it's refilling old or providing new prescriptions, the 28th MDSS ensures medication is delivered safely and will not interact with current medications.

For more information or to refill a prescription, call the Pharmacy at (605) 385-3250.