Steamboat pharmacist works 14-hour days to create calm, normalcy for his customers in the middle of COVID-19
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Wearing a N95 mask and brown felt cowboy hat, pharmacist Matt Johnson shoveled snow off the sidewalk in front of Lyon’s Corner Drug around 8 a.m. Thursday, April 16, after a spring storm left downtown Steamboat Springs dusted with 4 inches of snow.
By 8:30 a.m., he was unlocking the front doors of a business he’d bought a little over four months ago, and there wasn’t a customer in sight.
He flipped on the lights and took a seat on a metal stool in front of the empty counter of the pharmacy’s soda fountain, which usually attracted a crowd three deep.
He took a rare break from his 14-hour workday to reflect on COVID-19 and how it has impacted his life as a business owner, pharmacist, husband and father of four.
Johnson, who comes from a family of pharmacists, said his main focus these days is on creating an atmosphere of calm for his customers.
“There’s an underlying anxiety we see in people’s eyes, and one of the most important things we can do here is maintain normalcy,” Johnson said from behind the white mask he wears anytime he is at the store and dealing with the public. “The population this virus has the potential to really devastate are also the people who take the most medications, so it’s a real precarious situation.
“Sick people come to us before they see the doctor to be essentially diagnosed if they’re really sick or not, and then, they come to us after they see the doctor too,” Johnson explained. “This is an opportunity for us to showcase what pharmacists are trained to do and what we can do. We can shine in this moment by really taking care of our patients.”
By mid-afternoon, Johnson was busy — filling prescriptions, checking in with doctors, negotiating with insurance companies. He fielded one phone call after another, taking delivery orders, answering questions and talking to patients seeking reassurance after days of being at home alone.
He said his mornings are slower, and business tends to pick up in the afternoon, when people seem to look forward to getting out of the house to pick up their prescriptions, a greeting card or a bottle of face wash after a day of self-isolation.
He hasn’t fully comprehended how the novel coronavirus will change him, but he said he believed it had the potential to spark a recalibration of sorts.
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“We don’t need to go back to churning our own butter, but I hope we come out of this with a more wholesome perspective of what it means to be part of society,” Johnson said.
Two weeks ago, Johnson purchased a supply of N95 masks. He kept some for his employees and donated the rest to pharmacists and technicians in town who he said weren’t getting the personal protective equipment they needed.
“I think it’s just natural to want to take care of your colleagues,” Johnson said.
At 8:30 p.m., Johnson locked the pharmacy’s doors and headed out to make a few more deliveries. Arriving home an hour later, he underwent a process that has become ritual for him and his wife, Kelly, who is also a pharmacist.
Johnson described a meticulous process, which included taking off their work clothes, putting them in a slop sink, scrubbing themselves clean, depositing their clothes in the washer and finally taking a shower.
“And then, only then, is when we get to hug each other and give each other a kiss,” Johnson said. “And finally, I’m home and ready to be a husband and a dad.”
To reach Lisa Schlichtman, call 970-871-4221, email lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @lschlichtman.
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the percentage of staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center that are vaccinated.