Pharmacies in Gulf Coast make a comeback

November 7, 2005

Now that the water has receded in New Orleans and other gulf coast communities in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, cleanup and rebuilding efforts are virtually just beginning.

Now that the water has receded in New Orleans and other gulf coast communities in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, cleanup and rebuilding efforts are virtually just beginning.

The devastating storms hit retail pharmacies in the region particularly hard, with some stores still unable to open. Yet amid all the chaos, many pharmacies-both chains and independents-are slowly starting to put the pieces back together.

Chicago-based Walgreens, one of the largest chains in the Gulf Coast region, initially had 74 stores closed. Within two weeks after Katrina hit, half were reopened; currently, fewer than 30 stores remain closed. While it's not quite business as usual, things are starting to turn around, according to Walgreen spokesman Michael Polzin. "We still need to do salvaging operations at some of those stores and we do have some stores open in the west bank, including a few in New Orleans."

Polzin attributes the rapid rebuilding efforts to a diligent and dedicated work force of pharmacists, store managers, district supervisory personnel, construction workers, and computer technicians. "They got in there to repair equipment, clean up the stores, and try to get some sense of operational ability back." Polzin credited company logistics people with getting product to individual stores as well as to customers. "Even people from our loss-prevention area were helping us get through checkpoints and police blockades so we could get to our stores and open the pharmacies as quickly as possible."

Wholesaler AmerisourceBergen dispatched two mobile pharmacies to temporarily replace local community pharmacies destroyed by the hurricanes. According to AmerisourceBergen spokeswoman Claire Galligan, the mobile pharmacies allowed individual pharmacies to service their customers until they are able to rebuild. Galligan explained that the wholesaler has provided two fully functional state-licensed mobile pharmacies to dispense prescriptions as well as provide durable medical equipment and over-the-counter products to areas in need. Initially, the mobile pharmacies will be used in service locations where the largest number of people can be reached. The mobile pharmacies will be active in Mississippi and Louisiana locations, and once the two locations have been rebuilt by their owners, the pharmacies on wheels will travel to another location in need.

The first mobile pharmacy opened the second week of October, replacing pharmacist Paul Clark's pharmacy in Pascagoula, Miss. The second mobile pharmacy was scheduled to travel to where pharmacist George Harrigan is located in Port Sulfur, La. AmerisourceBergen's VP of business management/programs, Peter R. Cerula, acknowledged that rebuilding in devastated areas is a time-consuming process. He stated, however, that AmerisourceBergen is glad to be able to help its customers pick up the pieces to their livelihood.

Initially, Medicine Shoppe pharmacies in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee were hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina, with many of them experiencing power outages. According to spokeswoman Amy Hartweger, all Medicine Shoppe pharmacies in the hurricane-affected areas are now open for business. The Medicine Shoppe pharmacy in Jasper, Texas, is the only store that is still without power. It has been operating on limited hours utilizing a generator.

Among the chief obstacles that hampered restoration efforts were the power outages and communication problems. Hartweger said that many of the pharmacies sustained structural damage, and in some instances it was difficult to deliver supplies to pharmacies in the affected areas due to severe storm damage. One of the biggest problems, noted Hartweger, was receiving pharmaceutical products. Delivery efforts were hampered by closed roads and fuel shortage problems.