Merced County Times Newspaper
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Award-winning Planada pharmacist touts value of independent drugstores



Katie Bass loves what she does and endures the long hours and unusual circumstances for the rewards it gives.

Mrs. Bass is the owner and pharmacist in charge at San Joaquin Drug, Planada’s only drugstore. She grew up around pharmacies and says the job is a good fit with her career aspirations.

Dr. Bass, 33, was recently selected for the prestigious Bowl of Hygeia Award from the California Pharmacists Association. This annual award honors one California pharmacist for exemplary community involvement and providing patients with accessible health care through expanded pharmacy services.

“I believe in the work I am doing. I know I am helping the community. Compassion is an important theme in my life. I can’t see how someone could be a health care provider without the empathy,” Bass said.

Dr. Bass was born in Merced but says Planada has been a huge part of her life. Her parents bought San Joaquin Drug in August 2000 and she bought the pharmacy from them in April 2019.

San Joaquin Drug, on Highway 140 going through Planada, is a full service pharmacy offering free delivery, COVID-19 testing, immunizations, patient education, and more.

Despite challenges such as repeated burglaries, an armed robbery, and COVID-19, Bass has always been supportive of the Planada community. Since 2000, San Joaquin Drug has donated to many community programs in Planada, while offering free vaccination clinics and an annual community health fair.

The Bowl of Hygeia Award honors one California pharmacist for exemplary community involvement and providing patients with accessible health care through expanded pharmacy services.

“I feel really fortunate to get a chance to help people. I knew at a very young age that I wanted to do something in medicine but was not sure what it was exactly. I was strong in science and mathematics. When my parents opened the Planada store in 2000, it seemed like a natural fit,” Bass says. She worked as a clerk, stocked shelves, was a delivery driver and intern for a number of years while growing up.

One of her favorite parts of being a pharmacist is the patient interaction she gets. She believes druggists interact more with them than any other health care provider. She says pharmacists are the number two most-trusted professionals, next to nurses.

San Joaquin Drug serves the 4,000 residents of Planada and the 1,000 residents of Le Grand. Bass also owns a pharmacy in Coarsegold, which has between 2,000 and 3,000 residents, many of them elderly and retired.

Unlike some business enterprises, COVID-19 meant more work right away. She says they were the first to cover COVID-19 testing, including rapid testing. The pharmacy was among the first providers to distribute the coronavirus vaccine. She also has journeyed to Delhi for a Friday vaccination clinic and gives coronavirus vaccinations daily at the pharmacy.

Bass figures she probably works 60 to 90 hours a week, sometimes for 10 days in a row. Her 9-hour days also include time with her 2-year-old son Aulin and her husband Jeff Meyer. She also is expecting a second child in August.

Bass received her doctorate in pharmacy in 2014 from the University of Hawaii at Hilo. She graduated from Merced High School in 2005 and started her higher education at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She completed her bachelor of science degree at Chico State University in 2010, with a minor in chemistry.

There are several challenges in pharmacy and owning a drugstore, Bass believes. She said pharmacy benefit managers are waging an attack on the independent pharmacist; that’s why she works with the state organization on legislation to keep options open.

“The health care payment system seems broken, where people are forced to go to a chain drugstore but we are drafting legislation to address this problem. I am trying to take an active political role in this; it’s affecting patient health care,” she says.

In a rural, isolated community, Bass says some of the residents are minority, low-income and underserved. Some don’t trust the health care system, and this can lead to vaccine resistance.

“To me, the benefits far outweigh the risks; it’s the only pathway back to normalcy,” Bass says.

Each year San Joaquin Drug hosts a health fair where flu shots are given out, in collaboration with a health plan and the Merced County Public Health Department. She will even go to places of work to provide on-site vaccinations. Sadly, she said they have lost a handful of patients to COVID-19.

A pharmacist, Bass believes, is the most accessible health car provider out there. Most pharmacists are able to touch people’s lives and have a huge knowledge base and provide a safety net. She said people should not be afraid to consult a pharmacist, who is aware of how drugs interact with each other and what might be the best over-the-counter remedy.

She urges consumers to support the locally-owned businesses and said they will be surprised to find out they are competitive with the big chain stores.

With two stores, her family and extra duties, Bass doesn’t have much time for leisure pursuits. Before she became a mother, Bass used to teach dance but still manages to do workouts at home.

Diana Odom Gunn, spokeswoman for the pharmacy association, said the group is very proud of the hard work and dedication that Dr. Katie Bass has shown to the Planada community and to the profession of pharmacy. The Bowl of Hygeia Award is a great honor in recognition of those contributions, she adds.

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