Friday, March 5, 2021

Pharmacy Deserts: Inequality or Lifestyle Choice

 Several years ago, I was privileged to attend the 65th National FCCLA Convention (Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America). As a state advisor that year, my state officer and I enjoyed a week of hard work and fun times in downtown Chicago. For many of the 5,000 or so participants, it was an exciting to see a part of the US that differed tremendously from their own home towns. Quite similar to the Country Mouse/ City Mouse fable, it was a learning experience even for those with some travel under their belts. 

All of us have adopted different habits and hobbies during the pandemic and one of mine is reading headlines.  Notice I said 'headlines' and not 'news'.  There is something telling about the author in the headline.  Is it to shock the reader into opening the link or is it just general information that might be reported by a dozen different news outlets? The headlines that cause me the most concern are the ones that claim inequality without any understanding the community they are describing. 

Certainly, our time in Chicago that year, and the years we have gone to Washington, San Diego, Orlando and Nashville have been eye opening for these young people.  But, what about all those city dwellers who have only experienced country life from the balcony of a resort hotel or ski lodge.  Just like the City Mouse and Country Mouse, journalists and bloggers who sit in their 12th story apartments have little direct knowledge of what the situation really is. 

Today, the headline that caught my eye was proclaiming great concern over "pharmacy deserts".  It made so little sense to me, I had to wonder if it was a typo.  But, alas, the term was correct at least as far as it goes.  

'Desert' has become the new descriptor for anything that is more than a few blocks away or not available on demand. When you live in a place where distance is not measured in blocks, you have a different meaning for the word - convenience.  The time has come for writers and those in communication fields to evaluate news on more than just convenience and immediacy. 

During that week in Chicago, it was a thrill to be able to have four restaurants, a shoe store, grocery store and deli and an emergency clinic all within a short jaunt.  But the vast majority of the US population does not live in such a world and to claim we are disadvantaged, disparaged or treated unequally is not a failure of the system but a failure of some who think everyone must live the same.

The reality is that, most of us choose to live in a situation where we have to wait for things. We learned long ago that if we needed and wanted it immediately, there were ways to get it and if we couldn't get it, it was probably because it wasn't available.

What those who judge do not understand, is that rural communities might not be the first on the list, but they will make quicker use of the vaccine when it arrives and have fewer snafus along the way. The state of West Virginia has already proven that with one of the highest rates of vaccination in the country. 

It has been a testament to the American spirit that while our national government continues to be divided to the extreme, people have creatively addressed the challenges of this pandemic to make it work in spite of leadership.  While some worried about naming a community that didn't have a pharmacy, nurses and doctors figured out how to transport vaccines and get them to patients in a timely fashion. All without Facebook posts and 6 o'clock news coverage. 

The people who do will make this work even if the people who lead are in the way. 


Friday, February 5, 2021

The Computer and Customer Service


For the first time in over a month, I am not worried about running out of heat.

Oh, I haven't gotten a new furnace or changed suppliers or even gotten an emergency delivery, although we did call a few days ago . I have just learned how the computer thinks.

The revelation didn't come from the company or a short blurb on the news, it came from listening to a disgruntled customer with another company in another part of the state. The computer said she needn't worry either. In her case, a delivery before being nearly empty was considered bad business.

So, I got out my manual, did some quick math and found out the computer was right, I had nothing to worry about. Well, at least until the point when the computer was wrong. Do you suppose the computer knows the dog door sticks when it is windy? Surely it understands the

upstairs storm window is broken this year and then there is the weather to consider. Hmm, maybe I will worry after all.

The shift to computer directed efficiency is not a bad one. The disconnect is when staff cannot step into a customer's shoes and explain how it works. Unfortunately, such breakdowns in customer service are commonplace in many computer dependent businesses.

My love affair with computers started in the late 1970s and I have owned one for all of those 40+ years. Computers are not the issue here. Somewhere along the line, we started to believe the myth. Computers cannot think, resolve customer complaints or put business policy into simple language. Moreover, blaming human inefficiency on a computer is like blaming the hammer for hitting your thumb.

It's time to remember that a computer is merely a tool. It cannot correct our mistakes or create customer loyalty – only knowledgeable human communication can do that. Perhaps businesses need to sacrifice efficiency and think like a customer instead of the other way around. Expecting customers to do the sacrificing has never seemed like a good business plan.

Friday, January 1, 2021

COVID Relief: An Average Americans Take

A week or so ago, Congress passed an annual funding bill to which approximately $900 billion in COVID relief was attached.  President Trump reluctantly signed the bill, but not before demanding a larger $2000 stimulus payment. On December 31, many Americans found a $600 payment added to their bank accounts whether they needed the money or not.
What was driving this 11th hour spending spree during the waning days of a presidential administration?

With the pandemic came a fear that few of us had seen, not just for our health but for our standard of living. The Great Recession has not been in the rear view mirror long enough to forget how tax cuts and hastily crafted funding for large corporations left thousands unemployed and failed to save countless families from losing their home.  But here we were, government was not just repeating this move once but twice and the new administration was promising a third round of payments. 

There is no doubt in my mind that countless citizens on both sides of the aisle have contacted their representatives requesting caution.  Certainly, this is not a good time for people in need, but there is never a good time for people in need. Why is this time creating such an emotional response from our elected officials?

For more than forty years, US leaders have bounce back and forth between economic growth and healthcare as political priorities. Now, they have come together to create a monster of rapid spending that has cost the country billions of dollars in fraud. 

Respectfully, who do they think they are kidding? Bipartisan or not, there are surely better ways of handling this money and whatever funds will follow in the future.

The American people deserve better. I am just one of millions of Americans who have survived decades of economic fluctuations and personal trials. We have owned businesses and farms. We have lost our savings, struck it rich but mostly just gotten by. We have been professionals, laborers and yes, sometimes been unemployed and destitute. Mother Nature has seen us burned out, flooded, damaged by wind and baked by drought. We have educated ourselves and our children while becoming homeowners, saving for retirement, and paying more for health insurance than we did for food. We are Republicans, Democrats and the Undecided.  We are young and old and as diverse a group as one can be in this country. We have lived in the real world and, for the most part, solved our problems without government help.

All of this makes us uniquely qualified to advise government on what it needs to do. Unfortunately our opinion doesn't matter. 

Our portrayal as a deeply divided country is perpetuated by marketing specialists whose data comes from Twitter feeds and polls that pop up during Solitaire games.  Ironically, this data supports a government which then uses it to steer America into debt and poverty.  

It is not COVID-19 that is our greatest danger. America will survive. There will be a cost and like every time before, it will be citizens that pay that price, not our leaders. 

As a country, we are not waiting for COVID to end or a vaccine to save us. We support our local restaurants and service providers. We buy tickets to virtual concerts and ‘run' in virtual fundraisers.  We give to churches and charities and, unlike government, we know which ones work and which ones don’t.  

We have walked this road before and will walk it again. We are the experts here, not the ones who try to predict the future as something dark and unforgiving.  We support our community silently and behind the scenes without Facebook or Twitter recognition. There is a job to be done and we are doing it.

COVID gave this country the opportunity to change a 40-year path that resembles a Hunger Games spinoff. Government takes from the easiest targets, gives it to those who make promises of better times, and then makes us fight each other to get it back - not something to be proud of. Is it?

The sad part is that our leaders  have worked so hard to maintain a system which has not worked for the average American for a long, long time.   Additionally, each time, it puts this country closer and closer to the brink of being financial unable to serve anyone.

In the end, it will not really matter. Americans will feed their families, go to work, raise their children and bury their dead whether our country is on solid ground or not.  Maybe that is what makes America truly great.