essential workers

View From the Front Line: An Essential Worker Gets Real About Dispensary Life in the time of COVID19

While health care workers man the front lines and put their lives at risk to care for those sickened by the COVID-19 virus, they are joined by scores of other workers deemed essential who may get less applause and recognition for their willingness to bring services, normalcy, and vital products to our lives. We took a few moments to chat with Brittany Beaulieu, General Manager at the Local Joint in Phoenix. She offers a peek behind the curtain into what it’s like as a front line essential worker in these crazy times.

 I9L: How’s it going, Brittany? How has life changed for you and your team in the past month?

It’s been about a month now since we got notifications here in the state of Arizona, so that’s when we started taking extra precautions over here. In the last month, some of the things we’ve had to start doing to keep our patients and our staff safe include moving our waiting room and check in completely outside. We have tents and benches set up 6 feet apart, and we have taped off where people are going to be standing so they aren’t near each other. We have had to staff a little extra in order to maintain the calm with people, make sure everyone is getting checked in. Also, with the push for Leafly online orders, we are really trying to get people to place orders online so they can just come in and grab their orders and don’t have to wait around with too many people. We definitely had to ramp up staffing, ramp up products. We are cleaning like crazy after each patient, we disinfect and bleach. We are asking patients to stand 6 feet away from our counter until payment so they can social distance for the staff and themselves.

The main thing that this pandemic has brought for Local Joint is that we’ve noticed an increase in patient flow; we’re definitely getting busy. Patients are definitely coming to get their meds more. The first week we were very, very busy. I think there was a bit of hysteria that week with people not knowing if dispensaries were going to close or what. product was flying off the shelves, we could barely keep products in the store, we were able to place more orders and make sure that we stay on top of it. We had to adjust our product ordering and make sure that we have enough. We have tried to reassure patients that we are essential personnel, and we will be here for you. We understand. Just like a pharmacy can’t close, we won’t close on you. A lot of our staff are having a hard time not being able to hug their patients on the way out.

I9L: How are you guys taking care of yourselves as front line workers during this time? Emotionally and physically?

It’s definitely a lot of pressure on the staff right now. Not even the risk of getting sick, but having patients who are nervous – we want to make sure we are calm, cool and collected for all our patients. We are getting some patients who are upset, or confused. and with us running out of certain products, they don’t understand that our vendors aren’t supplying because they have had to limit their production because they have had to limit their employees, for example.

As far as physical health, we have some masks and gloves on order. They’ve been on backorder for about two weeks now. So we should be getting our gloves and masks in for our staff, and then we have to do a training on cross-contamination, cause that’s the main thing with gloves – you can protect yourselves with them, but if you aren’t being aware of cross-contamination, you can be infecting everyone else around you by touching the money, touching products, etc.

We are also looking into getting protective plexiglass or plastic shields, like some banks and grocery stores. But everything is changing day by day. We are trying to keep up. We finally realized that this isn’t going to blow over, and we needed to protect our patients and our staff, and get anything we can in here to make sure it is as safe as possible for them. And making sure that they understand that just because we are wearing masks and gloves isn’t because the infection is spreading here.

A lot of patients are afraid to read what’s going on in the media, so they come to us and ask us about what is going on. That makes it hard for us too, because we are reading the CDC reports and trying to stay on top of it but we aren’t a source of news, we just want to be here for people to get their medication.

I9L: Are you feeling the strain at the end of the day for being such a central point of contact, or sort of “town square” for your community? How are you holding up?

It’s pretty tough to be honest. Some days are better than others. The staff is really upbeat and positive about the situation. Our community and patients are extended family to us, we know most of them so personally – I know their dogs’ names! I had a patient that came in yesterday telling me her grandbaby is moving in. So its hard for us because we feel the pressure of wanting to know our patients understand what’s going on and how to stay safe, but also feel an obligation to not direct them.

A lot of our patients work at grocery stores; a few of our patients are nurses. People are overwhelmed. People are confused. And we try to keep it as calm as possible. If this is the only normal thing these people get to do all day, go pick up their meds, we want to keep it as regular as possible. When you’re driving around and it’s a ghost town out there and there’s nothing open, it gets a little scary. Even for the staff, we find a sense of normalcy. We do this every day, we know what we’re doing here, we feel comfortable, and we’re able to support each other. Whereas there are a lot of people that unfortunately don’t have jobs right now, so if this is the only place they can come and get a little sense of normalcy, we are trying to make sure they feel that.

Have you struggled with supply issues or seen critical shortages? Is there a toilet paper of weed?

We rely fully on external brands and vendors to provide products for us. With that, if they have production issues or employees that are out, that affects us. We’ve seen a lot of that.

We’ve also noticed that the lower-priced items are flying off the shelves. The $20 eighths are really hard to keep on the shelves right now. With people laid off, they are going for the lower-priced items. That is causing some issues, because we see regular patients who come in weekly with fixed budgets – now more than ever those budgets matter to them. So we are trying to find ways to circumvent that, to subsidize, to help them out as much as possible. Plus, some edible vendors, their bakers are out, so their turnaround times have slowed down. In the past a product that could get to us in 3 days, now takes 17 days.

So the owners of these businesses, the sales reps, the delivery drivers, they are all in there now. They are making the products, they are packaging them up. The cannabis industry as a whole is definitely pitching in. Every single person that can is working and working hard. Every vendor that I’ve talked to has said, yeah, I packaged this. That’s not normal. Normally we have staff, we have people in all of these essential positions, but we have a lot of people that have children. Even at Local Joint, we’ve got three people who have to be home with their kids right now. Some of them are essential players. We don’t know when they’ll come back.

That’s where it’s getting tricky. It’s definitely an adjustment. We just finally realized, like a lot of other businesses, we just need to adjust our business model, tweak some things, move some people around and just move forward, because that’s all we can really do.

I9L: What’s up with the Leafly online ordering? It is helpful?

 I like the Leafly online ordering. What I’ve noticed is a lot of our regular patients are beginning to use it, as well as first-time patients. We’ve tripled our online ordering in a month. It allows the patient consultant and the patient themselves the least amount of contact. If you order on Leafly, all we have to do is ring you out. It saves you about five minutes of contact. The online ordering does help, in my opinion; it’s the safest right now.

I9L: Is there anything else you want people to know about what it’s been like for you guys?

The biggest thing is that we are here for you as patients, so be here for us, as dispensary employees. Understand that we are working as hard as we can and we’re trying the best we can to provide the best value, best products, and best quality for you guys during this time. We will always be here for you. Not just as a facility, but as an ear. Sometimes I say we are like therapists – we love listening to our patients, we love learning and we love talking to them. And we appreciate when they listen to us, and when they understand we are working really hard and doing the best we can. Don’t yell at us J

Thanks, Brittany, for the real talk about #essentialworker life.

To keep yourselves and Local Joint staff as safe as possible, take a cue from their team and consider ordering online with Leafly!

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