Waterford.FYI recently chatted with Daragh Connolly of ‘Haven Pharmacy Connollys‘, Main Street, Dungarvan. The pharmacist has a particular insight into running a pharmacy during a crisis as the pharmacy dates back to 1915 when the Spanish Flu was in Dungarvan. His dad has told him many stories about the Nolan Family that ran it back then.
Daragh and his staff have had to overcome many challenges during the early days, especially supply chain difficulties, which he talks about more below. Despite this, Daragh ensured his customers have had the essentials throughout the pandemic. As someone who is so obviously customer-centric, it’s no surprise that he has kept everything flowing as it should. Hats off to him and his staff.
Read the interview
How have things changed for you since the lockdown in March?
We have a particular insight here because we have a pharmacy business. The pharmacy itself dates back to 1915 when the people who ran this pharmacy first, The Nolan Family, lived through the Spanish Flu pandemic. My father tells me stories of how when he took over the pharmacy from Mrs. Nolan, of how the Spanish Flu affected people here in Dungarvan. So we have a long insight and history here into what pharmacies did back then and what we do now. It was to give accessible health care to them and to be there when they needed them. So, what’s different for us as a business is that we are open.
We are lucky as we have a big space here (3,000 sq feet) so we can easily dispense medicine safely here and keep two metres distance. Also, as people come to visit the pharmacy we have enough space for them to move around safely. Because footfall is down, we don’t have as many people coming in but the big difference for us is people phoning in ahead and using our app, they’re able to order their medicine and it’s ready to collect when they coming in, so we cans till have that social interaction with them just from behind the sneeze screens. Contact time is lessened but we can actually squeeze more into that time.
How has the shutdown of so much impacted the community, your staff, and suppliers?
One of the first things we started to see was that everything that comes into a pharmacy is part of a very large international supply chain. Even though we would work very closely with companies that make drugs in Co. Waterford and Clonmel, lots of the ingredients that go in to make the finished product here in Ireland come from further afield (India & China). The second part that would be part of our supply chain like masks, gloves, hand gel dried up very quickly. We had issues with not only trying to get our regular stuff, but we were also being offered lots of types from companies that we had never heard from before in places we never heard of, and they were asking us for money upfront; that made life very dangerous.
As a pharmacist here in Dungarvan, I want to stand over everything that we give people. So the first effect then was that the things that people wanted (facemasks, gloves, hand gel), that those supplies dried up. We really buy stewardship of the supply of drugs and by not allowing people to buy more than one month of medicine at a time, we were able to manage the supply chain very well. So there were on shortages. The hard work back in February and March paid off and there is still a functioning supply chain, people haven’t gone without their medicine.
How have your staff been doing?
We have great moral here at work and it’s just been a very stressful time. If you think back to the very start of this, what hand washing meant, about coughing and sneezing and social distancing, we realised very quickly what it was to be on the front line. People coming in could be COVID-positive, symptomatic, or even asymptomatic, they would come to our pharmacy to get help. So we realised that the doctors’ surgeries were closed and that we were the front line of health care in Ireland. The first thing we had to do was to look after ourselves because if we can’t keep the door open, then we can’t look after anybody else. I was delighted as a friend of mine Charlie Crowley, a carpenter in Stradbally was able to put in perspex sneeze screens for me. that meant we could talk to people a little bit more than two metres but be able to stay safe.
Do you feel social media has been of help?
The first and simple thing about social media is when you go to change your opening hours to put it onto Google and Facebook, it’s really important because it is the first thing that people look for in a time like this. We’ve been able to keep people updated with who we are and what we’re doing on Facebook and through Instagram. The Haven Pharmacy website has been helping us too. My favourite social media is The Dungarvan Observer and The Dungarvan Leader, so we’ve been letting people know what we’re doing through those two newspapers as well. They’re a fantastic resource here for us in Dungarvan. I think we’re very lucky in Waterford city and County that we have great newspapers – long may that last!
Did you feel prepared to remain reopen at the start of all this?
When we looked at what the protocols were from the very start from the HSE. Defcon 10, as we called it, would have been that we would have had to close the pharmacy because the majority of us got sick. Thankfully, that never happened. However, I don’t think we’re ever going to get back to the way we were before COVID. You know, we’re going to have to appreciate physical distance, coughing and sneezing etiquette, maybe not creating aerosols, facemasks and hand washing are all going to be important. I would be very hopeful that as restrictions are eased, we won’t see a second wave of COVID, and very hopeful that those measures we are taking now will keep paying dividends and we can get back to something that looks like normality.
Do you have an online shop?
What we do is dispense medicines. so what we have is a Haven Pharmacy App where you can load up your prescriptions onto that and order them and add any queries you might have to that. We don’t have an online presence to sell online but what we have been able to do is offer people a personal shop over the phone or even video call to show them what’s on the shelf and we can take payment for that over the phone. We will certainly be looking into it with the Haven Pharmacy Co-operative and do it as a group because of the expenditure involved. Like lots of businesses, we thought it was something that was three years away but it’s now something that’s three months away.
If you had one message for your customers, what would it be?
Dungarvan is a brilliant town. Brilliant people work and live in it and we are really, really proud as people of our town. People need to show that and shop locally. They also need to get the message out there to people outside the county that Dungarvan is a brilliant town to visit. We fully appreciate as retailers in Dungarvan that not every penny you spend can be spent in Dungvaravan, but we want people to know they have a choice of how they spend their money and the knock-on effect it has on the local economy. There’s evidence of that with the amount of money that goes through Waterford Chamber Vouchers, showing it’s really good currency.
What I would love to see, as a sign of solidarity, and for when things have fully reopened, that people use those vouchers instead of taking money out of the bank as a sign of appreciation for those businesses who work hard and stay open.