Expert Interview with NACDS CEO Steven Anderson: The Power of Association

Steven Anderson, CEO, NACDS, joined Drug Topics® for a forward look at how associations—like the National Association of Chain Drug Stores—can empower pharmacies through the power of collaboration in 2022.

Drug Topics®: You were recently selected as Chair of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) board of directors. So looking towards 2022, can you share one of your main goals in this role?

Steve Anderson, CEO, NACDS: You know, it’s shocking to people that associations have their own trade association or professional society, so that's what the American Society of Association Executives is.We have probably about 50,000 Trade Association Executives, and as you might guess, there's trade associations and professional societies that would be part of this group. They're at the national level, the state level, and even the local level.

I think one of the things that I've learned throughout my career is that associations have to tell the stories about what their members do. We do that at NACDSvery well. My goal is to do that as chair of ASAE. 

I can't think of one association or professional society that didn't do something extraordinary during this pandemic. We all had to adapt quickly, like many of our members did, and I think we did that very well. Trade associations have always done good in their local communities; it's a story to tell. I plan to tell that story, but I also plan to tell that story through my perspective as being president and CEO of NACDS. Our members did extraordinary things, and our trade association is comprised of traditional drugstores, the food and grocery stores, and then the mass merchants as well—it's any retailer basically with a pharmacy.

We did amazing things that I'd like to talk to you about, probably today. It's quite a story and I think we've got a great story to tell. 

The ASAE, before I became chair, recognized NACDS with what they call their Gold Circle Award as part of their Summit Awards program that to illustrate what trade associations have done. They recognized the NACDS organization and staff for everything they did for our members. It's pretty incredible. It's a great story to tell, and I'm pleased to tell it and I'm glad I have an opportunity to do it as this year's chair.

Drug Topics®: That's amazing. Congratulations to NACDS for all that you've been doing for pharmacy, and especially these past few years during the pandemic.

I'd like to highlight the recent NACDSTotal Store Expo.During your business program at the NACDS TSE, you highlighted a lot of challenges that pharmacies have really met in the last few years. Can you touch on those successes, and where you see the pharmacy industry overall gaining stronger footholds in the next several months?

Anderson: I think it's always good to look at your past so that you know where you are in your present and where you're going to go in the future.I started in this job at NACDS 14 years ago. The search committee that hired me, and the Board of Directors, challenged me to start telling this story about what pharmacies do. I’d go to Capitol Hill and meet with members of Congress who I had known in my previous positions, and I’d tell them what I was doing and what an important role that we played in health care. I know it's shocking to a lot of people in the pharmacy community, but a lot of members of Congress didn't know—I had one member of Congress who was the chair of a very important House Committee. And he said, you know, that he just viewed us as stores that sold all kinds of things, thatwe were more like convenience stores that just happened to sell pharmaceutical products. I realized that's the issue that we had at that point.

So,14 years ago, we actually started a public awareness campaign, and we did advertising on pharmacies as the face of neighborhood health care. Obviously, I'm stressing pharmacies,based on 1 on 1 interaction with the neighborhood; 90% of all Americans live within five miles of a retail pharmacy.And, we're in health care.And what has happened, I think, over the last couple years—in terms of what pharmacies have been able to do—has been extraordinary, considering how far we have come.A lot of associations were trying to tell decision makers and regulators and legislators and the media what they do and how they're helping people during the pandemic. But we have been doing that for basically 14 years.

I kept challenging my staff every year saying “Okay, we might need another, better tagline with everything we're doing.”But it just was so consistent, and it just kept growing. I think a great example is when we had the H1N1 pandemicin 2009.We started to give immunizations and you know, when you think back to when I got here...We couldn't immunize in all 50 states.We had to keep hammering away on that. And then when the pandemic hit, our members, we're ready to go both in terms of testing and vaccinations and providing other health care needs of the American people.

I think the future of this industry is so bright, and we’ve shown what we can do. I think pharmacies and our member companies should be very proud of what they've done for the American people. We are reopening this country and really reopening the world, which is a unique opportunity for all of us.

Drug Topics®: Absolutely,absolutely. On the topic of the pandemic, pharmacy has made a lot of strides, but also has brought a lot of long-standing issues to the forefront. Can you highlight some of those?

Anderson: I think there's quite a few of them. We issued a report with Johns Hopkins University several weeks ago, and really talked about health inequity and the issues that really came to light during the pandemic. I think that report was very well documented. If you look at the number of testing and vaccinations we have done—both in the federal retail program, which was the federal program, and then in the state programs, where a lot of our members were participating—we're really addressing a lot of those needs.

The last study reports I saw out of the CDC was that we had vaccinated about 140 million doses at that point, but about 45% of those were people that were what they would call racial or ethnic minorities—that's how the CDC would characterize them. I think it just showed how fragmented our healthcare system is.We talk about it all the time; we spend the most money per capita than any country in the world,and we really get the worst outcomes. And I think that is really teed up pharmacy very well in terms of moving forward in the future:One, we have this image of being very positive coming out of COVID-19. But if you look at the most intractable healthcare problems we have, pharmacies are the perfect area—the most accessible health care professionals in the local community—to address those challenges.

Drug Topics®: You mentioned the fragmentation in health care. So, how will more collaborative health care models be increasingly relevant as we move forward?

Our Chair, Colleen Lindholz, who is the President of Kroger Health, really covered this in the NACDS Total Store Expo this year that you had mentioned earlier.She discussed the future of retail health, and really the interdisciplinary approach that will be taken in our member company stores. I think there's going to be—and we're in the midst of it—a retail revolution to empower patients’ access to the right kind of care at the right time, which is, I think, really important. I think we're going through a new era of what healthcare means in this country,and it just isn't focusing on taking medications, but the total health and wellness of the American people.We're doing that with an interdisciplinary approach, in terms of nutritionists... We have dieticians, we have nurse practitioners, we have pharmacists, who are really working together, I think, in a very collaborative way, a to do this. And as I said, 90% of American people live within 5 miles of a retail pharmacy, so we are the most accessible. 

If you look at what's happening inside our member companies stores—whether it's traditional drug, grocery or mass—they're addressing these issues with new business models that they're developing, with clinics and tying those into the pharmacies, as well as the other disciplines that I just mentioned.

I think that's really, really exciting in terms of we're going.It's not just focusing on physical health and wellness; one of the consequences that we have coming out of the pandemic, unfortunately, are mental health issues, mental wellness issues, and addiction issues.How can we address those issues that we've been working at for quite a while—in terms of preventing opioid abuse and misuse—and at the same time, on various mental health issues that some of our members are starting to address. There's a revolution going on in retail health. And you know, we were there in the depths of the pandemic, with our lights on, and doors open, where other health care professionalshad shuttered theirstores. Pharmacy was always there,literally, with their lights on and doors open. So, I think it's going to be very, very exciting.

Drug Topics®: Wrapping up here, what's the one thing that you want NACDS Total Store Expo attendees, and our audience at Drug Topics, to take away from this year's meeting?

Anderson: From this year's meeting, 1, we're going to be together in person next year, which will be great; we'll get we'll be able to get all of our meetings together.

I think the one thing I would take away is the concept of relationships and collaboration that we have.We talked about my role in the American Society of Association Executives, being Chair of the board this year. And I think there's—as I pointed out earlier—in terms of what associations do for the American people and for our society, there is a power in associations of people, the associations themselves with an “s” on it. But I think there's also a power of association—where people, and I mean that, by associating with each other by collaborating with each other—to get things done.

We did see this particularly through the pandemic with our supplier associate members, in terms of supply chain.Now, we have pretty severe supply chain disruptions as we speak. And our members are addressing that together, both in terms of retail and supply areas.We've already had meetings and discussed those issues and what needs to be done.

I think there's so much that you can do with your company, if you're working through your association, that you can't do alone.There was a Greek philosopher who wrote in theFifth Century BC—which surprisingly, is probably the best illustration of an association that I can think of, and this was way before associations were ever created—but he said, if you had a single reed, you could take it with your fingers and snap it. But if you had a group of reeds, and you would bind those together, you couldn’t break it. And to me, I think that's probably one of the best illustrations that I've ever heard of what a trade association is.

So, I think you've seen that in terms of what we did during the pandemic. And I think you see that in terms of 1, what we're going to be doing going forward that I already discussed, but 2, in terms of the power of having meetings and getting people together in committee. That's the strength of associations and the power of association