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04/13/2021

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Community pharmacists: Pivoting during the pandemic and beyond

The pandemic has underscored the critical role that independent pharmacists across the country play in their community’s health. From the beginning, pharmacists have served on the frontlines, pivoting their businesses repeatedly to meet the needs of their customers. Here are highlights of three pharmacies, and how they’ve flexed, embracing new services and finding ways of reaching new audiences.

Clayworth Healthcare Pharmacy, Castro Valley, California
Located outside of Oakland, California, Clayworth Pharmacy reached thousands of new customers last year by integrating its vaccine services with Major League Baseball. “We had a relationship with the Oakland A’s, and we parlayed that into an on-site vaccination clinic at every home game,” co-owner Sudhir Reddy said. As fans came to games at RingCentral Coliseum, they were also able to get their COVID-19 vaccines. “Many fans would come and get their first dose and then come to another game at the ballpark to get their second dose.”

It’s a great example of how developing relationships in the community can turn into additional opportunities for independent pharmacies to expand their reach, Reddy added. “We were able to reach a good mixture of people with different ethnic backgrounds and ages,” he said. “It was also a good public relations opportunity for us, since we’re just 15 minutes down the road from the ballpark.”

Co-owner Roger Taylor said that the pharmacy has worked hard to reach a diverse audience. “Our differentiator is that we’re able to relate to anybody. We go above and beyond in that regard.” That begins with hiring pharmacists and pharmacy students of diverse ethnic backgrounds who speak multiple languages. “We are one of a few culturally diverse pharmacies, and we often do clinics in areas that have residents who don’t speak English. [Having a pharmacist who speaks their language] can remove a lot of apprehension in patients.”

Clayworth Pharmacy also partnered with other organizations to vaccinate underserved populations, joining forces with Alameda County to offer mobile vaccination clinics, and with Project Roomkey, which provided temporary housing for homeless residents as part of the initial emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We helped consolidate medications and deliver the medications to individuals,” Reddy said.

Taylor said, “Creating these relationships has built trust and opened the doors for more opportunities. For example, many of the senior facilities that we vaccinated against COVID-19 have reached out to us to do mobile flu shot clinics.”

Annadale Family Pharmacy, Staten Island, New York

Jeneane Chirico, owner of Annadale Family Pharmacy on the south side of Staten Island, says that while the pandemic created havoc for many patients – and her pharmacy ­– it also created new possibilities and new ways of conducting business.

Chirico said that, as a child, she was afraid of needles – and she never envisioned offering vaccinations as part of her pharmacy’s services. However, when vaccines started to become available in early 2021, Chirico understood that they could help set her pharmacy apart, and help her team better meet the needs of the families who lived near her neighborhood store.

“I saw a big need to reach out to other independent pharmacies,” she said. “I said to the other pharmacists that if we’re going to do anything, we need to offer vaccinations.” So many people would need vaccines, and she knew that “major chains could only handle a certain amount.”

So Chirico and another of her pharmacy team took immunization delivery training, and one of her pharmacists renewed the license that enabled them to give vaccinations.

Taking the opportunity to offer vaccinations helped Chirico to grow her business – and help the community she serves, too. “We had patients waiting in long lines to get vaccinated,” she said. Many of them had never before come into her pharmacy.

Chirico and her staff created goodie bags for those who came in to get vaccinated, and her team ventured outside the pharmacy’s four walls to get to those who couldn’t get them. “We tried to go a little out of the way for people when we could: We visited homebound clients to make sure they got their vaccines, and went to the homes of special needs kids who didn’t feel comfortable in the pharmacy.”

Chirico is now embracing further changes, and expanding to include more vaccination opportunities. “We ordered flu vaccines, too, so that is something new and exciting for us,” she said. 

Medicap Pharmacy®, Urbandale, Iowa

John Forbes, owner of Medicap Pharmacy® just outside of Des Moines, Iowa, also adapted when the COVID-19 vaccines became available: He opened his pharmacy on six Sundays to allow more people to be vaccinated.

“My staff was very willing to give up a few Sundays to help people receive the vaccine,” he said. “All six Sundays were a major success: We administered between 180 and 250 vaccines during each one. We had dozens of positive comments from patients on how efficiently everything ran.”

Forbes, also a state legislator, enlisted the help of the mayor of Urbandale and his wife, who registered patients and directed them where to go once they arrived at the pharmacy.

However, during this particularly high-demand time, Forbes and his team realized that their old way of making appointments no longer worked. “We didn’t have a system for taking appointments, and the pharmacy was doing everything over the phone,” he said. “Our pharmacists got overrun taking requests, so we started using an online scheduling service to help manage this process.”

Quickly adapting to changing circumstances became the norm, Forbes says. “We also partnered with a company called Vaxi Taxi, a  company in nearby Des Moines, because we were receiving calls about patients who were unable to get to us to get a vaccine,” he said. “This service gets the vaccine and takes it on-site to the patient through a hired pharmacist.”

At Cardinal Health, we’re proud to support these and other independent pharmacies across the country. We’re grateful for the work they continue to do to embrace change to keep their communities healthy.