From vaccines to pet meds, COVID-19 has been a year of pivots for HOPE Pharmacy

George Copeland Jr. | 3/18/2021, 6 p.m.
HOPE Pharmacy and its owner, Dr. Shantelle Brown, faced a dilemma.
Dr. Brown Photo by Regina H. Boone

HOPE Pharmacy and its owner, Dr. Shantelle Brown, faced a dilemma.

The pharmacist was expecting vials of the highly sought COVID-19 vaccine that she could administer to patrons of her pharmacy located within The Market@ 25th in Church Hill. She had a website built for people to register to get inoculated. But what she didn’t foresee was the lack of knowledge or ability some of her older patrons would have in accessing the site.

As a result, many of the people who registered and arrived to get vaccinated lived two and three hours away. They had scoured the internet and found HOPE Pharmacy and the vaccine registration site, snagging most of the appointments. They were from well outside of the community her pharmacy was meant to serve when she opened it in April 2019.

“We didn’t turn them away,” Dr. Brown said. “But at the same time, I’m like, ‘What about my people who are here within walking distance who are trying to get the vaccine as well?’

“So we just had to shift to make sure that we were accessible,” she said.

The solution was to abandon the website and, instead, use a phone number to register people. The switch has prevented similar issues as more doses of the precious coronavirus vaccines have become available.

Now, at the year anniversary of the virus’ emergence in the Commonwealth, Dr. Brown and her pharmacy continue operating on much smoother terms, balancing their added mission of vaccinating people during the pandemic with their long-term commitment to the community.

This kind of sudden shift is nothing new for HOPE Pharmacy, which early last year did a quick pivot and began producing and selling hand sanitizer. The pharmacy also provided the sanitizer without charge to first responders.

In addition to adjusting to safety restrictions and guidelines, the pharmacy also became a resource for pet medications in response to an outsized demand from people wary of how long the pandemic could last.

“Right from the very beginning, we were here for the community,” Dr. Brown said. “There was so much stuff that we didn’t know, and things still change daily as it relates to this virus. We’re doing what our vision and mission says that we were going to do, and we are.”

While many other businesses have suffered adverse effects during the pandemic, HOPE Pharmacy has weathered the changes comparatively well, with no financial or personal troubles for Dr. Brown and her staff. If anything, the pharmacy has taken on more work, from providing over-the-counter consultations for those fearful of going to the emergency room, to responding to an increase in prescription deliveries, not just for area seniors and Church Hill community, but for partners like Capital Area Health Network. Dr. Brown said HOPE Pharmacy has retained all of its pre-pandemic staff.

When it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, the pharmacy is shifting its daily responsibilities between filling prescriptions and administering vaccines to residents at independent living facilities.

The pharmacy is part of a partnership with the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts and other independent pharmacies and local health clinics, including Cross-Over Healthcare Ministry and Daily Planet Health Services, that Dr. Brown hopes can lead to greater access to the vaccine for people who historically haven’t had many options when it comes to health care.

Asked about HOPE Pharmacy’s plans for the future, Dr. Brown admitted the nature of their work and duties during the pandemic have left little time to contemplate what comes next.

She said there is growing impatience among area residents to get vaccinated.

Nonetheless, she is optimistic about the pharmacy’s ability to respond to and serve the needs of the community.

“I’m happy that we’re able to get the vaccine and we’re able to help as many people as we are,” Dr. Brown said. “I’m just thankful. And we want to get more done, and we’re going to try to get as many as we can done.

“We want to make sure that we do it the right way,” she said, “but we’re up for the challenge.”