Warwick Friendly Society still provides personal touch
AFTER more than a century and serving several generations on the Southern Downs, the Warwick Friendly Society Association (WFS) is still helping local families.
This week, I had the chance to take a tour through the oldest pharmacy group in Warwick to see if they really lived up to their name.
The answer is a definite yes.
As managing director Gavin Egan showed me around the pharmacy, the first thing I noticed was the abundance of smiling faces.
There were smiling faces on staff noticeboards, lockers and smiles especially on the staff themselves.
He explained that the first mutual savings bank, founded in Scotland in 1810, was called the Savings and Friendly Society and to the best of his knowledge, was the first friendly society.
Before the development of large-scale government and employer health insurance and other financial services, friendly societies played an important part in the lives of many people.
The first friendly societies in Australia were established in the 1830s, and in the 1870s, the first friendly society dispensaries were built.
In 1909, the first WFS was established, through an amalgamation of smaller friendly societies throughout the region.
The society's early efforts were focussed on helping families with things such as medical attendance, and in 1912, their first pharmacy opened on the corner of Palmerin and Grafton Sts.
Legislative changes in the late 1990s brought incorporation to Australian friendly societies, meaning that all societies were made public companies reporting to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).
"In principal, our organisation is still owned by its members, operates as a traditional pharmacy, but offers added services to members and the general community," managing director Gavin Egan said.
Although WFS has expanded considerably, it still remains local, and employs about 33 staff members at the two pharmacies.
After reaching an agreement with a group of six doctors, the society built the centre in Wood St, which opened in June 2000.
"Our board had a vision of establishing a comprehensive health precinct in Warwick," Mr Egan said.
Mr Egan said that after a full refurbishment and expansion, the society was able to establish its second pharmacy at the site in 2008.
The centre is also home to Condamine Medical Centre, Sullivan Nicolaides Pathology and Warwick PhysioWorks.
The adjacent Queensland X-ray Centre and Southern Downs Dental practice complete the health precinct.
Looking around the WFS Palmerin Street store, I could see items that I had never seen in an average pharmacy.
There were useful items for those with arthritis such as jar openers, key turners, 'seatbelt easy-reaches', comfort cutlery and aids for putting on socks.
"It makes stay-at-home care for people with mobility problems a lot easier," Mr Egan said.
However, the services don't stop there. I also looked in the WFS Sleep Apnoea clinic, and dose administration aids dispensing area, the sports medicine and weight management products as well as the purpose-built private consultation rooms.
"There's nothing worse than going into a pharmacy and having to talk about your health issues in a crowded room," Mr Egan said.
Pharmacist and professional services manager Jacqueline Henricks said sleep apnoea was a condition that caused a person to stop breathing repeatedly during sleep, due to the regular collapse of the airway.
"The sleep apnoea clinic here offers diagnostic equipment, new CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machines, spare parts and service for most leading brands of equipment," Ms Henricks said.
"Before this, patients could only go to Toowoomba, Ipswich or Brisbane for treatment and sometimes have to wait three or four months to have a sleep study done."
Warwick Friendly Society Association is also a leader in the supply of dose administration aids (DAAs).
With new technology, they are able to package a variety of medicines together in one simple tear-off package, which is beneficial to patients in aged-care facilities and in domiciliary care.
"We can do a pack for just one tablet or multiples, and one of the big advantages is the systems portability," Ms Henricks said.
The WFS pharmacies are agents for a number of government health care initiatives such as MedsCheck, Diabetes MedsCheck and the NDSS subsidy scheme for diabetic patients.
"MedsCheck and Diabetes MedsCheck provides one-on-one time with a registered pharmacist to discuss medication and make sure they are taking it correctly and at the right times," Ms Henricks said.
MedsCheck and DiabetesMedsCheck are government funded, making them free to the patient. There was no room for error in medication management, she said.
"We have very strict policies in relation to things like counselling patients taking a medicine for the first time, and having regular contact with people taking essential or multiple medicines," he said.
WFS also provides a "20 minute health check" which tests blood glucose levels, total cholesterol reading, BMI index, waist and weight measurements, blood pressures and advice, all by a registered pharmacist.
So what's next for the future for Warwick Friendly Society Association?
Mr Egan said they were working on an e-commerce model for the pharmacy, which they see as a big part of the future. WFS also owns other properties in Warwick they plan to develop in coming years with a focus on health.
As well as regular donations to various charities such as RACQ CareFlight and Red Cross, the society will continue to support smaller local groups where possible.