AmerisourceBergen is celebrating Good Neighbor Pharmacy’s 2021 Pharmacy of the Year Award finalists.
From an impressive pool of nearly 900 nominees and over 5,000 nominations for those pharmacies, 3 special stores have emerged as the finalists for the 2021 Pharmacy of the Year award, presented by Good Neighbor Pharmacy (GNP), a part of AmerisourceBergen.
Each year, Pharmacy of the Year is awarded to 1 GNP member community pharmacy that has displayed excellence in patient care, community outreach, and innovative pharmacy practices. This year’s finalists have built exceptional health care destinations for their surrounding communities by providing equitable vaccine access during the COVID-19 pandemic, delivering valuable patient care services, and organizing events catered to their neighborhoods’ unique needs.
On June 28, AmerisourceBergen announced the 2021 top contenders: Magnolia Pharmacy of Magnolia, Texas; Rogers Drug Store of Modesto, California; and Mahaska Drug of Oskaloosa, Iowa. Drug Topics® recently interviewed each of the 3 finalists to learn more about what separates them from the pack, the challenges and opportunities experienced amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and their inspirational outlooks on the future of pharmacy.
Magnolia Pharmacy of Magnolia, Texas
Since Magnolia Pharmacy first opened its doors in 2002, pharmacist and owner Steve Hoffart, PharmD, has been growing his store and prioritizing the needs of his community in eastern Texas. What began as a small store supported by a staff of 3—himself, 1 technician, and a customer service representative— has grown to more than 30 employees and a bustling business.
Magnolia is situated just outside of Houston, which is home to many different patient populations, according to Hoffart. “It’s a very diverse community. I’ve got a lot of middle- to upper-income families that are on the east side. But then if you go west of my store, it’s very rural,” he explained.
Magnolia Pharmacy is unique from its competitors in that it provides a holistic look at a patient’s health in order to mitigate medication use over time.
“We take pharmacy to another level,” Hoffart said. “We don’t just fill prescriptions. We look at other aspects that we can improve the health and wellness of our patients.” Clinical services include diabetes and hypertension management and analyzing factors such as hormone levels and gut health, as well as other services that aim to boost a patient’s overall wellbeing. “That’s really what our goal is,” Hoffart said. Customizing care has been key for Magnolia Pharmacy for the last 19 years.
Hoffart believes the COVID-19 pandemic has placed pharmacies in the spotlight as an essential mainstay of their communities, both big and small.
“When you look back at the past year and half and see the full scope of the role pharmacies played across communities large and small, it’s refreshing to see independent pharmacy get the recognition we deserve. We hope to step into an even larger role in the health and wellness ecosystem in order to better serve our patients.”
As a member of the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network, (CPESN), Hoffart gained early insight into managing a scheduling system to handle the surge of vaccinations. “It was the craziest thing. We booked 500 appointments in less than 10 minutes,” he said. His pharmacists administered their first batch of COVID-19 shots through New Year’s weekend, and patients were eager to express their gratitude. Hoffart recalled an interaction with 1 woman in particular. “She said, ‘I just want to tell you that you changed my life. I am so looking forward to getting to see my grandkids.’ And we just melt. I have never felt so appreciated in my life.”
Equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines has been a relevant issue in health care, and Hoffart made it a priority. Magnolia Pharmacy partnered with a local charity organization and pharmacy technician school to set up a COVID-19 clinic for seniors and low-income communities who lack reliable internet access. Staff and volunteers would be available to help individuals book their appointments. “We would also set aside extra appointments for those patients,” Hoffart said.
Looking ahead, Hoffart hopes that the pharmacy industry capitalizes on these pandemic efforts to enhance the profession, including legislative changes. “I’ve been very involved with the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA). We know the value a pharmacist can bring. We want to work collaboratively with all of health care to provide access to patients and communities. That’s what a community pharmacy is all about,” Hoffart said.
Rogers Drug Store of Modesto, California
Ben Prasad, PharmD, owner and pharmacist at Rogers Drug Store, has been in the business for 30 years. But Rogers Drug Store has been up and running since 1922. “It’s been in this community for a very long time and has a long history,” Prasad said.
Modesto can be characterized as under-resourced healthcare community and the pharmacy reaches out to and predominantly serves African American, Hispanic, and Asian populations. “It’s a diverse community and one that’s been hit hard by COVID-19,” he said.
Rogers Drug Store supports the needs of its community through partnerships with local leaders and nonprofit organizations. Prasad volunteers on a medical team of a local outreach program to offer free health care services to underserved patients. Furthermore, across the street from Rogers Drug Store is a parent resource center, that supports young and single mothers. “We help them with fundraising and anything they need to help the mothers they support, we also support the organization with pharmacy and other healthcare services,” Prasad explained.
Even before the SARS-CoV-2 virus hit the United States, Rogers Drug Store was preparing for a possible crisis. Prasad was able to gain early insight into the pandemic from the county’s public health department through their past collaboration with health fairs. “And we kept our doors open. The business slowed down, obviously, but we kept moving, and we never went back,” Prasad said.
When Rogers Drug Store began vaccinating in early February, a lot of patients coming into the pharmacy were unsure of the safety of the vaccine. Vaccine hesitancy has been a significant obstacle to the vaccination effort, and Prasad made sure to educate his patients about the effectiveness and safety of COVID-19 vaccines and address all questions. “I’ve talked to community leaders about it. We still are educating, and we get phone calls almost every day,” Prasad said.
For Prasad, this nomination is heartening evidence that pharmacists really do make a difference in their patients’ lives. “You know, we’re here just doing our work, this is what we do. The whole community recognizing what we’re doing, to me, was the biggest thing. And that was very satisfying.”
Mahaska Drug of Oskaloosa, Iowa
Owner and pharmacist Jane Nicholson, RPh, has been working at Mahaska Drug since she graduated from the University of Iowa Pharmacy School in 1981. She began as a staff pharmacist and moved up to pharmacy manager, holding that position for 12 years.
In 1993, the store nearly went out of business after its chain ownership at the time decided to close the location. “In a 2-week period, I had to decide if I was going to try to purchase the store or let it close; and the people working with me would be out of work,” Nicholson said. With resilience and passion, Jane identified angel investors and was able to purchase the pharmacy to continue to serve her patients and keep her team employed.
Oskaloosa is a rural farming town of about 12,000 residents, located in South Central Iowa. “I’d say Oskaloosa’s a small town, but it has a big heart,” Nicholson said. “The people in the community are extremely supportive of the school system and local businesses. It really is a strong and caring community to call home.
That sense of community is palpable at Mahaska Drug. “We work hard to know our customers. We know them by their first names, we know their families, and we support them through everything,” Nicholson explained. The community pharmacy also works in conjunction with CPESN to provide customers a holistic wellness experience. Nicholson’s pharmacists provide medication therapy management services for patients with chronic conditions such as COPD and asthma to improve outcomes.
Nicholson and her team also support their surrounding community by hosting many exciting and successful events. In 2020, the pharmacy was awarded the Outstanding Retail Experience for the state of Iowa by the Iowa Tourism Bureau. “It was quite an honor. And it was a shock to me because I had no idea I was even up for the award,” she said.
Mahaska Drug is an exemplar of terrific customer experience and community support. Each season, the staff decorates the entire front end of the store. “At Christmas time, we decorate probably 60 to 70 different Christmas trees,” Nicholson said. “People come and shop from all over the state and even out of state.” The pharmacy also frequently hosts bake sales, where profits go towards either a local community program, a family in need, a women’s support program, or anywhere the community requires help. Twice a year, Mahaska Drug hosts a barbecue event that takes place in the parking lot, complete with games, a face painter, balloon artists, and great food.
When lockdowns began in the US as a result of COVID-19, Nicholson’s first concern was her employees. She organized paid leaves of absence for high-risk associates, her husband helped her build partitions for the counter, and an employee’s mother sewed masks for staff. Mahaska began vaccinating for COVID-19 in February.
Nicholson agrees that the future of pharmacy, especially community pharmacy, is bright.
“Pharmacies showed that they’re a vital part of their community,” she said. “The independents, they always seem to go above and beyond to try to take care of everybody. They are so accessible in their communities, more so sometimes than doctors, or at the hospitals. The pharmacists are just doing what they do every day and loving their patients.”
Voting for the 2021 Pharmacy of the Year awards runs through July 26. Cast your vote by visiting https://www.mygnp.com/pharmacyoftheyear/ or by visiting the GNP Facebook page, where feature videos of the 3 finalists are posted. The Pharmacy of the Year program is a part of Good Neighbor Pharmacy’s annual ThoughtSpot conference, taking place virtually from July 27-29, 2021. Tune in to Drug Topics Facebook Page on Thursday, July 29th for the announcement of The Pharmacy of the Year.