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published July 2011

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Herald Journal Publishing
PO Box 129
Winsted, MN 55395
(320) 485-2535

Dassel pharmacist gains insight from Caribbean island counterpart

By Kristen Miller, News Editor

As a pharmacist for 45 years, Mike Sylvester, 70, has rolled with the many changes the industry has undergone, from cost of medication to the sheer number of prescriptions.

This past winter, Sylvester, the owner and operator of Peterson Pharmacy in Dassel, was able to see how his small-town pharmacy compared to those of his vacation hot spot on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten.

For the past nine years, Sylvester and his wife, Bev, have been vacationing on the small island for two weeks during the winter months.

On their most recent visit to the island, Sylvester said he finally got up enough nerve to ask the pharmacist of a small pharmacy there to sit down and chat about her work.

“It always amazed us how busy this small pharmacy was, every time we stopped in,” Sylvester said, noting the lines of customers, many of which were tourists.

According to information about the island, St. Maarten is 37 square miles and happens to be the smallest land mass in the world to be shared by two sovereign nations – France (St. Martin) and the Netherlands (St. Maarten). The total population of the island is 77,000.

Just more than half of the island is French, and the other side is Dutch, where the Sylvesters vacation.

Tamara A. Landino-Maskal is the pharmacist manager for Simpson Bay Pharmacy, located in Simpson Bay, a small community that receives a lot of sailboat and yacht traffic, according to Sylvester.

Because Landino-Maskal was born in Poland and moved to Holland at age 13, Sylvester said her accent is pleasant, though it was difficult, at times, to understand, Sylvester said.

Landino-Maskal completed seven years of college in Holland, worked two years in a pharmacy as an assistant pharmacist, and also had to work in two retail settings and one hospital setting, Sylvester explained.

She also had to receive extensive training in HIV and the medications used by HIV patients. This type of training is emphasized much more in the Caribbean area than in the US, Sylvester said.

Sylvester went to college for five years, including a one-year internship, and earned a bachelor of science degree in pharmacy in 1965. In St. Maarten, Sylvester’s qualifications would only allow him to be a pharmacy assistant, he noted.

The pharmacy there is much smaller than one would find in the US, but somehow manages to have enough cupboards and drawers for the large amount of medications it keeps on hand, he explained.

“It’s just amazing how much merchandise they can get into a small store like that,” Sylvester said.

The pharmacy has long hours and is open seven days a week, including some holidays.

“It’s a unique little pharmacy that caters so much to the tourists and the people that live on the yachts,” he said, noting that 40 percent of their volume is from tourists.

On average, Simpson Bay Pharmacy fills 220 prescriptions a day, many of which are “maintenance” medications for such things as diabetes and high blood pressure.

“I was quite surprised because there was no call to patients’ doctors in the USA or to a Dutch physician,” Sylvester said. “Their rules are a lot less stringent than ours.”

Doctors would be called, however, for requests for antibiotics and narcotics.

At Peterson Pharmacy, Sylvester fills about 100 prescriptions a day, from maintenance medications to antibiotics. He also fills a lot more asthma medications and antidepressants compared to St. Maarten, which, he said, is a relatively healthy country with not nearly the level of obesity as in the US.

Unlike in the US, a person can go into the pharmacy in St. Maarten, ask for a prescription, pay for it, and be on their way.

Ninety percent of the prescription drugs are prepackaged in strips or unit-dose containers.

There are also only about four or five insurance plans to choose from, where as Sylvester deals with about 45 different plans in an effort to get the best deal for his customers.

“Here, I could participate in 100 insurance plans,” Sylvester said, noting that much of his time is spent on the phone resolving insurance issues.

Medications are shipped from both the Netherlands and the US.

The pharmacist’s husband works in the warehouse where the medications are stored.

Unlike many of the pharmacies in the US, Simpson Bay Pharmacy is only a pharmacy, with over the counter medications and sunscreen. It’s not a gift shop or convenience store.

Prices are also a bit higher on the island, likely due to the shipping costs.

For example, a common medication that is $3-$5 here could be $35 there, Sylvester explained.

Through his visit and tour of the Simpson Bay Pharmacy, Sylvester realized he, as a pharmacist, needs to slow down a bit and take more time with his customers.

“They are so pleasant with their customers down there,” he said, noting it’s a much more relaxed working environment.

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