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Local pharmacies gearing up to help fight COVID

As the COVID-19 vaccine continues to slowly become available to more of the public at-large, local pharmacies in Derby (and across the state) are preparing for their role in distribution – more a matter of when, not if, in the eyes of Damm Pharmacies owner Dared Price.

“For the most part, in the state of Kansas, the role of the pharmacies have been pretty minimal up to this point, but we’re hopeful for that to change soon,” Price said. “We’re really hoping to be able to get some vaccines soon. Our main goal, obviously, is to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.”

Making preparations

Being a member of the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Service Network, a group of independently owned pharmacies, Price’s stores (in Derby, Andover, Arkansas City, Rose Hill and Winfield) are part of the largest pharmacy chain in Kansas. In total, 95 percent of the state’s population is within 15 miles of a Kansas CPESN pharmacy.

Given that reach, those pharmacies are waiting for the call to get involved in the vaccination process – with CPESN helping them get the devices, policies and procedures in place to do so.

“We’ve really been working pretty hard on it for the last several months for when that day comes that we are 100 percent ready to jump in and start vaccinating people,” Price said.

During the wait to receive vaccines, all Damm Pharmacies locations have begun offering three different types of COVID testing (nasal swab, saliva and antibody) since the start of the new year. Saliva tests (by appointment, offered via drive-thru) are currently being offered at no charge.

Price noted he has hired extra personnel to help with the additional testing being offered and more staff is being trained to help with vaccinations, once available, as regulations have been expanded during the pandemic to allow technicians to vaccinate. Price noted almost all personnel at Damm Pharmacies locations have gone through the necessary training to be able to assist with that process.

Distribution chain

Local pharmacies may be uncertain on the timeline of vaccine arrivals, but what is known is that will come from the county health departments – the point of contact for distribution.

“Currently, we’re working with our local health departments, in particular Butler County Health Department. We’re working with them to transfer some vaccine from their department to us so we can help them with the vaccine process,” Price said. “They’re the same as we are; they just want people to get it. If they can involve some partners that are used to doing vaccines, they want to do that, so we’re glad they reached out to us.”

Even chain pharmacies like Walgreens have noted that vaccine availability for individuals will be made known by a local health official or their employer.

While Walgreens is exploring options to administer vaccines through off-site clinics, stores and/or other locations, and taking recommended safety measures in order to help with immunizations, the pharmacy’s current role in Sedgwick County has been to help administer COVID vaccines solely to staff and residents at long-term care facilities.

Sedgwick County has moved into phase two of its vaccination plan – making shots available to county residents age 80 and older. While the state’s plan opens phase two to those age 65 and older, as well as high contact critical workers (first responders, teachers, grocery store workers, etc.) and those living/working in congregate settings, the county set its parameters based on limited vaccine availability. Currently, the county plans to receive 7,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine weekly for the foreseeable future.

Expanding access

As the rollout continues, the vaccine (to be given at no cost, though administration fees may apply) will become available to larger population groups, but qualifying criteria will continue to be set by the state and county. While Price noted Damm Pharmacies locations have consent forms and waiting lists available for the vaccine, he noted staff will handle the bulk of the scheduling as screening will need to be done to make sure the stores are vaccinating the correct people based on the current phase.

Considering the role pharmacies played in the expanded availability of flu shots, Price sees his stores and others being vital in getting the vaccine out to the public as the state continues to move through its phased plan.

“When you’re talking about processes that enable us to be able to vaccinate a lot of people fairly quickly, we already have those processes in place basically. That’s why we’re really excited to be able to get some vaccines and start helping people,” Price said. “Talk to your health care professionals, talk to your physicians, talk to your pharmacists about the benefits and risks of the vaccine, but I would strongly urge everyone to get the vaccine. The faster that we can do that as a community, the safer we’ll all be.”

Scheduling of tests or wait list placement can be done by visiting dammpharmacy.com or calling one of the Derby locations at 788-6669 or 788-5533. For general information on the county’s vaccination plan, visit sedgwickcounty.org/covid-19/vaccine/.

Rock Regional cafe takes restaurant-style approach to service

When you think of cafeteria food, what comes to mind? For many, school staples like meatloaf, chili and taco salad may be embedded in their memory banks. Others with a history of extended hospital stays may think of easily digestible pantry staples like soup, jello and ice cream.

At Rock Regional Hospital in Derby, the kitchen staff want to expand what you think of when you envision cafeteria food – offering up rotating menus that feature items like parmesan-encrusted chicken, risotto, smoked brisket and banh mi sandwiches.

Food Service Director Richard Ensley noted the kitchen takes pride in making food from scratch – with fresh ingredients – for patients, staff and visitors to the hospital’s retail cafe.

“Our mission is really just to connect with our community, to support our staff, to ensure that we’re doing our part to better the patient experience for the hospital. I’m sure that patients don’t generally get a lot of choice when they go to a hospital,” Ensley said. “We’re able to offer a variety of options for our patients, and things that are made from scratch here at the hospital, to give them a little bit of choice and make their stay just a little better than it normally would be.”

Limited exposure

Though the Rock Regional cafe is usually open to the public, current pandemic restrictions have limited visitors at the hospital, so nearly all of the cafeteria traffic (90 percent) at the moment is made up of hospital staff.

Current conditions have limited the cafe’s outreach efforts in the Derby community, as well, Ensley noted. However, the Rock Regional cafe staff were able to participate in A Taste of Derby in 2020 (offering meatballs and bruschetta) and the feedback they received from that have them looking forward to when they can welcome the public back to the hospital.

“People were ready to figure out how to hurt themselves to get into the hospital and eat our food. We’re excited to be a part of the community and really reach out to Derby,” Ensley said. “Eventually, hopefully after the pandemic lifts a little bit, we’ll be able to open again to the public.”


Currently, hospital staff make up the majority of traffic in the RRH cafeteria, but its offerings are open to the general public under normal conditions.

Seeking to spread the word on the overall service of Rock Regional Hospital, not just the cafeteria, Ensley noted his staff is looking to get involved in as many community events as possible in the coming year.

What’s for dinner?

For now, the cafe will focus on the needs of the patients and staff – offering up healthy, balanced options on a rotating seven-day menu. While there is plenty of variety with a build-your-own-breakfast menu at the cafe, lunch and dinner service feature a set number of options depending on the day (though those assignments rotate regularly as well).

Having 90 percent of the customer base made up of hospital staff, Ensley admitted it is not hard to get feedback, so he sits down with his other chef (Stephanie Harvey) on a regular basis to plan menus.

Given the long hours of hospital workers, comfort food is a staple. Ensley noted Taco Tuesdays are one of the most popular days in the cafeteria – with salsas made from scratch, house-fried chips and rotating entree specials. Additionally, he said a speciality chicken pita with tzatziki sauce was so popular it found a spot on the menu permanently.

With ties to Luby’s chain restaurants (i.e., Fuddruckers, Cheeseburger in Paradise), Ensley said some of those dishes make it onto the rotating menu as well – including chopped steak, cheese enchiladas and more.

Restaurant quality

Ensley’s own restaurant experience is a main driver in the approach the hospital cafeteria takes to service, as he has spent 23 years in the industry. That includes stints with chains – like BJ’s Brewhouse and Granite City – as well as experience working in and helping open local restaurants in his native Topeka.

Visiting doctors have showered the Rock Regional cafe staff with compliments, remarking its offerings are a step above hospital, even restaurant food. Ensley hopes to bring a similar experience to patients and other members of the community at-large.

“We bring a level of customer service that you would see at any fantastically run restaurant. We make sure that we go above and beyond for each guest that comes into the building. The same thing comes across in our food. We’re not doing normal cafeteria food. We’re not prepping pans and pans of things and letting it sit in a hot box. We’re making things fresh,” Ensley said. “To be here in the Derby community, I don’t think there’s a lot of options that offer a lot of scratch cooking here in Derby, so it’d be wonderful to have people come in and try it and just be surprised at what we’re doing here in the hospital. It will be great.”