Did pharmacy board give Walgreens special treatment?

April 2, 2014

That’s the charge being made by a government watchdog group and a labor federation, which alleges that the Indiana Board of Pharmacy in 2011 approved Walgreens’ new pharmacy design with the help of the former board president who is employed by the drug chain.

That’s the charge being made by a government watchdog group and a labor federation, which allege that the Indiana Board of Pharmacy in 2011 approved Walgreens’ new pharmacy design with the help of the former board president who is employed by the drug chain.

Indiana was the first state to approve Walgreens’ new Well Experience pharmacy layout, which moves pharmacists from the back of the pharmacy to a desk closer to customers. At the time of the approval, William J. Cover, RPh, was president of the state pharmacy board. He is employed by Walgreens as its corporate manager of pharmacy affairs.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights launched an investigation into alleged patient-privacy violations at Walgreens, following complaints that the chain’s new pharmacy design is putting sensitive patient information at risk.

Common Cause Indiana and the labor group Change to Win have filed an ethics complaint with the Indiana inspector general's office, claiming that Cover’s involvement with the decision to allow Walgreens to proceed with its new design violated the Indiana ethics code. The redesign of Walgreens pharmacies throughout Indiana was a $100 million project.

And the Indianapolis Star has published emails in which Cover seemed to serve as a liaison between board members and Walgreens officials. The emails are from 2011 and showed Cover connected state regulators with Walgreen officials months before the remodeling project became public.

 

He reportedly arranged two trips for the pharmacy board members to Walgreen sites in Illinois to meet company officials and inspect the new design. He also sent information about the project to the pharmacy board staff.

"Under the circumstances, he should have kept himself at arm's length," Julia Vaughn, director of Common Cause, told the newspaper. "Looking at the emails, I think more separation was needed, and that's why we think an investigation is necessary."

 

The board approved Walgreens’ request 6-0. Cover, who is still on the board but no longer president, abstained.

Sue Swayze, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency (IPLA), defended Cover's conduct. She issued the statement in response to an email sent to Cover. The statement read:

“Indiana law allows a regulatory board to make site inspections that are not subject to the open door law for pending applications so that no trade or proprietary issues are made public.  

 

“In 2011, the Board of Pharmacy conducted site inspection visits to Walgreens’ Illinois prototype as part of pending applications here in Indiana.”

The statement further read:  “The public records that we have provided show that the board member in question did not discuss the issue with state regulators but, rather, only with state employee responsible for the logistics of the visits, and later recused himself from the discussion and the vote. IPLA is turning this over to both the Indiana Inspector General and the Indiana State Ethics Commission for review, and will assist in every way possible with investigations.”

Michael Polzin, a Walgreens spokesperson, refused to comment on the allegations against Cover.