ENTERPRISE — When drugs are your business, you want to get the job done right and do the best you can. That’s what pharmacy technician Debbie Curtis has done at the Enterprise Safeway pharmacy.

In fact, she recently received the Pharmacy Technician of the Year Award from the Oregon State Pharmacy Association, one of eight across the entire state to be honored by the association.

In an Oct. 3 press release, the association said, “Curtis was recognized for her customer service including her amazing memory for people and their birth dates, and making people feel cared for at the register. She has a great instinct for when a prescription needs to be called on and is a welcome asset to her pharmacy team in fulfilling her role through her knowledge of her pharmacy customers.”

Curtis said Wednesday, Oct. 6, that it was her supervisor who nominated her.

“Laura (Abell), my pharmacist, asked if she could nominate me and I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ I mean, there’s just so many other people in the state. … Then when the Oregon State Board of Pharmacy called me up and said I’d been selected as technician of the year, it was a real honor.”

Curtis said her memory for birthdates makes working with customers “a little more personal.” Most customers’ accounts are listed — at least partially — by their birth dates.

She said that memory is just a knack she has.

“My co-workers think I’m autistic,” she laughed. “I remember birth dates, I remember dates.”

Abell said Curtis goes out of her way to help.

“She is an excellent technician; goes above and beyond to help people,” the pharmacist said. “She knows a third to a half of the people’s birthdays by heart. She’s an excellent person to be on your side in the prescription world.”

Another element of Curtis’ value as a pharmacy technician is her instinct for when a prescription needs to be called in.

“That means if the computer rejects it, if insurance rejects it and we can’t do any overrides to fix it, then I have to call the insurance to find what’s wrong, why did they reject it,” Curtis said. “We need the person to get their medicine and if the insurance stops it, we need to know why.”

Longtime employee

Curtis has been working at Safeway since 2004. She, her then-husband and three children moved from Milton-Freewater in 2002. She waited a couple years before getting the job at Safeway.

“I wanted to get all my kids in school full time before I went back to work,” she said.

Her kids grew up here. Jacob, the oldest, is familiar around town as an Enterprise police officer. Her daughter, Katie, lives in Lewiston, Idaho, and son, Andrew, lives in La Grande.

She started at Safeway as a courtesy clerk — one who bags groceries and does carry out. During her time as a courtesy clerk, she worked all over the store.

“It’s quite a step up from being a courtesy clerk and checker,” she said. “I’ve worked every department in the store, except deli, and we didn’t have a bakery at the time. But my first love was always pharmacy.”

That’s largely because she enjoys customer service.

“I’ve always been a people person. I love watching people,” she said. “I could sit on a bench for hours watching people and what they do.”

But it took a vacancy in the pharmacy to provide the opportunity for the step up.

“I couldn’t actually get into the pharmacy to be a full-time technician until one of the technicians retired,” she said, adding that’s what happened.

As a technician, her training was largely on the job. A pharmacist, she said, has to go to school for eight years and obtain a doctorate. After some training, Curtis said one of her supervisors urged her to get her certification as a technician. She is now both nationally certified and certified by the state.

The company also was helpful, she said.

“Safeway did send me to corporate in Clackamas for a week’s training, which helped a lot, and I learned the different codes I needed to know to input the prescription,” she said. “After that, I had a year to get my national certification. So I’m nationally certified in the pharmacy — all states have to be nationally certified, besides being Oregon board-certified.”

COVID difficulties

Curtis said the coronavirus pandemic has made things difficult for the pharmacy. But the main problem has been with the virus cutting the staff short. Normally, they have two pharmacists, three technicians and a clerk. One technician has been out with the virus since July and Curtis just got back Friday, Oct. 8 after a 10-day bout with the disease.

“The whole store’s short because of the COVID (pandemic). That’s why the drive-in window’s closed,” she said.

“Hopefully we’ll be getting her back soon,” she added about the missing technician.

Although a frontline health care worker who has been vaccinated, she believes she caught the virus from customer contact.

“I somehow got it with the people who’ve been coming in,” she said. “But I’m good now and I got the shot, too.”

Her experience with the virus was like with a bad cold.

“My doctor said if I hadn’t gotten the shot, it would’ve been a lot worse,” she said.

But family members also have caught it. Curtis’ younger son and brother both caught the virus.

“It’s just really scary,” she said.

She doesn’t pretend to have a physician’s knowledge, but like most of us, she’s learning about coronavirus, the risk of catching it and how protected one is with the vaccine or by the antibodies left in the body after recovery.

“If what I’m reading is true, they’re OK for 90 days because they have the antibodies in their system, but what about after those 90 days?” she wonders.

The pharmacy, she said, hasn’t been abnormally swamped with prescriptions because of the pandemic. It usually fills 1,550-1,600 prescriptions a week and the only real increase has been more inhalers sold.

“We’ve always been busy, no matter what,” Curtis said. “We’re working our tails off six days a week.”

Loves her career

As for the Technician of the Year Award, Curtis received a plaque.

“It’d be nice if I got a bonus,” she said.

But that’s not why Curtis excels at her work.

“There’s days people love their jobs and days people hate their jobs,” she said. “But I’ve always had the attitude that I like my job; it’s not a job, it’s a career, and you’ve got to love your career.”

———

Bill Bradshaw is a reporter for the Wallowa County Chieftain. Have a business tip? Contact him at 541-398-5503 or bbradshaw@wallowa.com.

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