Relating to a member of Congress may seem a bit far-fetched to some, since his or her work life in the nation’s capital is literally far-removed from the average constituent’s 9 to 5 experience.
U.S. Rep. Diana Harshbarger used her 36 years of experience as a pharmacist in the state to relate to the group of Women in Business gathered at Morristown Landing on Friday.
“There’s really nothing in pharmacy that I haven’t done, except probably nuclear,” Harshbarger said. “I’ve worked at a hospital, worked for retail chains and then growing my own business and that’s 24/7. Honestly, as a business owner, it’s all about customer service, isn’t it? That’s just what it is. If people wanted to come see me, they’d have to drive by 50 pharmacies probably before they came to me – and they had to make that conscious choice to come see me. It’s all about how you treat people, it’s all about relationships, no matter what you do.”
Harshbarger and her husband, Robert, owned a franchise, The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy, for 20 years.
“You know, when you own your own business, just because you’ve got ‘9 to 5,’ or ‘9 to 6,’ on the door doesn’t mean that’s when it stops,” she said.
She explained that it was Robert’s idea to extend the Medicine Shoppe’s retail hours.
“It was 10 to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 to 1 on Saturday. My husband is a pharmacist, too, and he said, ‘We need to open at 9.’ I said, ‘But somebody needs to work an extra hour,’ and he said, ‘You’ll do fine,’” Harshbarger said.
“We weren’t content with just being a pharmacy – now that was back in the 80s,” she said. “So, we started doing specialty things like compounding medication. We stepped in and filled up drug shortages when hospitals or clinics couldn’t get drugs. And we did sterile compounding (servicing hospitals, clinics, physcians offices).”
The couple expanded into home healh and hospice - which, according to Harshbarger, included middle-of-the-night drives to neighboring communities to deliver items like cath pumps for cancer patients.
“You’d have to go over to take a nebulizer for a respiratory patient at 3 a.m. on a road where they say, ‘Turn by a big tree, over there where the fence is and the cattle’ – and half the time, they didn’t have road signs. Listen, I’ve been all over this district before I was over this district,” she said. “It’s all about taking care of that patient, because they could have used a lot of different hospice services or a lot of different compounding services. But they always called us because we didn’t complain, we went out.”
The couple believed it was important to find solutions to their patient’s problems. Robert formulated a topical pain reliever years ago because he observed that really sick patients were unable to tolerate swallowing (and keeping down) pain medicine and presented the product to an international conference in Houston.
“It’s no different if you’re in politics or the private sector. It shouldn’t be, but they make that way. You know why? Because (people) have different ideas about how things ought to be done,” Harshbarger said. “But, look, there is no substitute for common sense, none. Mark Twain said it best, ‘Common sense is not common.’ It’s in dang short supply where I work.”
Before engaging the audience in a round of questions, Harshbarger added, “You can solve any problem if you work together and you communicate.”
“You have to take things as they come in the business world and same thing in my profession now. The only reason I raised my hand and said, ‘Pick me,’ and got beat to death by 16 other people is because you have to be convicted to do what the good Lord tells you, for one thing; but you have to want to make things better. That’s what you went into business for and that’s what I’m doing where I’m at. Because if you have a conviction, maybe you can help in a lot of different ways. Because there’s a lot of problems in this world.”
She encouraged her audience to ask questions - “You can ask me anything, except my age and my weight,” Harshbarger said. “C’mon girls, you’ve got access to me.”
Her response to a question regarding how to address the growing number of mass shootings across the country laid the blame on challenges to the family unit in contrast to calls for more mental health providers.
“Look, there’s a lot of things. I’m in the healthcare industry. You can’t legislate evil, you cannot. And it starts with the family. I used to say it’s a lawless society, and you saw that start in the ‘60s, but it’s a parentless society these days. Because how many grandparents are raising their grandchildren?”
Her time serving on the Committee on Homeland Security provided information on drug use in young people, which she said can change the brain’s wave pattern – “I mean it can change it totally,” Harshbarger said, adding that depression is a result of those changing brain patterns.
With regard to the increase in Fentanyl use, Harsbarger said the number one way young people are accessing it, usually by accident, is Snapchat.
“Drug dealers can entice them to get Percocet, Xanex or Adderall, or what they think is that drug. You know how much Fentanyl it takes to kill you dead? Two grains of sand, that’s it,” she said.
“That’s why when the police have to transfer evidence, they triple glove. If it gets through the skin, they have to Narcan dose several times. The Cartels are really good at changing the analogs of Fentanyl (class of drugs known as rapid-acting opioids used to reduce pain). That’s why we had to legislate that it’s a criminal offense if you are caught selling, or if you’re caught with, these specific analogs of Fentanyl.
“That’s why they’re dying. You can take a lot of drugs that are very prevalent and they change the brain wave pattern in these young people to where depression sets in.
“We have a cynical world where everybody’s 24/7 social media. These young people look and they get depressed because they don’t look like that girl or that young man, or somebody tells them, ‘You’re worthless, go kill yourself.’ And you wonder why we have violence?”
She added, “If somebody has intent, they’re going to do it. So you can’t legislate morality. So we have to be diligent in building strong families. We can’t do that unless we make a concerted effort,” Harshbarger said.
To a question regarding whether she had a female mentor who supported her in the early years, Harshbarger said, “When my husband and I went into business, we had each other to lean on. There really weren’t a lot of female pharmacists. I was the first one in my immediate family to graduate from high school and college – and to even go on and get a doctorate in pharmacy, that was unheard of.
“It wasn’t that they (her parents) didn’t work hard; they taught me to work hard. But I didn’t really have a female mentor to say, ‘Hey, this is how you do it.’ But we hung around successful people and we listened to them. It might be at an international conference or one of our compounding conference, and we asked the right questions: ‘How did you get to be where you’re at?’”
“That’s all people have to do. You don’t have to look for a role model in a woman or man, you just have to surround yourself (with) successful people. They’ve already made the mistakes and they didn’t get to where they are by not making mistakes – but you don’t want to repeat them, if someone successful can tell you, ‘Don’t do this.’”
After her discussion, Harshbarger spent time speaking with WIB members one-on-one before embarking on more visits throughout the district.
“This is August recess, so when you’ve got 12 counties, you’ve got to show up in all 12 counties,” she said.
Women in Business is hosted by The Morristown Area Chamber of Commerce. For information about the organization or to request membership, call Debra Williams at 423-586-6382.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://harshbarger.house.gov/media/in-the-news/harshbarger-speaks-women-business-event