New pharmacy being built by First Nations

Duane Hicks

Area First Nation residents will get comprehensive pharmaceutical dispensing and counselling a little closer to home when the Rainy Lake First Nations Pharmacy opens its doors later this year.
A partnership between the Rainy Lake Tribal Development Corp. and pharmacist Edwin Bruyere, the new business is being built at the Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre on Couchiching.
Tony Marinaro, economic development advisor for Pwi-Di-Goo-Zing Ne-Yaa-Zhing Advisory Services, said yesterday that the Rainy Lake Tribal Development Corp.’s leadership, particularly Couchiching Chief Chuck McPherson, saw a need to make the health access centre a place for “one-stop shopping.”
The venture also helps diversify the corporation’s investments while addressing some of the concerns raised by a 2007 economic impact study which indicated the Rainy Lake First Nations should try to retain some funds within the community instead of just being consumers, noted Marinaro.
“Here’s an opportunity to take a role in recovering some of the dollars that are expended in the district, and recirculating the dollars,” he explained.
“We also get to hire one of our band members from Couchiching, who is a pharmacist, and it’s a opportunity for youth to have a good role model and see there’s opportunities out there,” Marinaro added.
“It’s a good service all around.”
Bruyere, who recently left the Fort Frances Clinic Dispensary to pursue the new venture, said he felt the pharmacy is a good fit at the health access centre.
“I’ve always been under the assertion a medical clinic should try to offer as many services as [it] can,” he remarked.
“The clinic in Fort Frances, for example, has prescribers, it has a pharmacy, and this clinic has had prescribers but it’s never had a pharmacy,” Bruyere noted.
“I am in a unique position where I can provide that service if it was a service they wanted, and so we took it from there.
“I am from the community, I am able to do the job,” Bruyere stressed.
“If everything comes together, then go with it. That’s where it started.”
Marinaro said Rainy Lake First Nations Pharmacy has not happened overnight.
“We’ve been working on this for almost two years now—in one form or another—from the initial concept of discussing it over a cup of coffee to ‘Where do we go from here,’ and learning the ins and out of what it takes to develop a pharmacy as far as regulations and such,” he recalled.
Marinaro said the Rainy Lake Tribal Development Corp. was fortunate to find a First Nations’ pharmacist.
“It’s like finding a needle in a haystack, to be honest with you,” he admitted. “As Chuck McPherson put it, it’s like finding a living dinosaur because they’re so far and few between.”
On that same note, Marinaro said the pharmacy could lead to mentorship opportunities for First Nations’ students wanting to get into medicine, to which Bruyere agreed.
“I didn’t get here on my own. It takes a lot of support, it takes people,” Bruyere stressed.
“Maybe this gives somebody an avenue to get into the field, not even just pharmacy but any medical field.
“If you don’t have someone to ask, you’re just not going to know,” he reasoned.
Bruyere felt the new pharmacy will be well-received once it opens its doors at the health access centre.
“It’s hard to predict because you don’t know until you start,” he conceded. “But I do know it’s always been something that not only I thought would be a good idea there, but other people, too.
“It’s a clinic. There are a lot of people that go there,” he added. “A lot of people, I am hoping, will find it convenient but I am hoping I can provide a meaningful service to them, too.
“You’re not just going to go there because I am there.”
Bruyere said his job won’t be any different from what any other pharmacist does, noting he will be dispensing medications, providing counselling, and giving advice to patients and prescribers.
He explained the pharmacy has been designed to have a dedicated space to sit down with a patient and talk about their medication.
“Most pharmacies, at least the newer ones, have that kind of concept,” he remarked. “And that’s the way I was taught—it wasn’t so much facts as it was dealing with the people.
“We kind of made our area so that it would be easier for me to interact with people in a private setting.
“I think that way, the care will be better than I could provide if we designed it differently,” he added.
The Rainy Lake First Nations Pharmacy is being built as an expansion onto the health access centre. It will have an entrance connected to that building, as well as an separate one outside.
The 800 sq. ft. business will consist of a security area, dispensing area, preparation area, and counselling office.
The business is being built by local contractors True Line Construction and Trevor Strom Contracting.
“They’re very easy to work with,” Marinaro lauded. “Gerald Wieringa [of True Line Construction] gets involved. He wants us involved in different aspects.
“He wants you to be happy with it. He takes pride in what he does,” echoed Bruyere, adding there’s rarely a day where he doesn’t visit the site just so he can watch the new business take shape.
Construction began two weeks ago, and is anticipated to be done in time for the pharmacy to open in December.
Marinaro said the pharmacy could lead to further expansion into other service areas for the Rainy Lake Tribal Development Corp., whose other economic ventures include the Landmark Inn in Thunder Bay, Rainy Lake Tribal Contracting, Rainy Lake Logistics, and Rainy Lake First Peoples Insurance.
“That’s part of the belief of the development corporation—to diversify our investments so that you’re not dependent on a specific sector, be it the forest industry or mining industry,” he reasoned.
“This is one more avenue for us to pursue, with, again, the main focus being partnering with professionals, the people that bring expertise, and Edwin does just that,” Marinaro added.
“It’s very beneficial we could find someone that has the same mindset that we have, in how we offer our services and conduct our business.
“We’re looking forward to a fruitful and successful long-term sustainable relationship with Edwin and the customer base that we create,” he enthused.