The robust response to the COVID-19 pandemic from regional chains was the result of preparedness and a willingness to work with state and federal leadership. That was the message relayed by Lynne Fruth, president and CEO of Fruth Pharmacy on Monday at the virtual NACDS Regional Chain Conference. Fruth was part of a program with Kathleen Jaeger, NACDS senior vice president of pharmacy care and patient advocacy.
Fruth noted that one of the key elements of the Point Pleasant, W.V.-based chain was being proactive when it came to providing COVID-19 testing, and, more recently, vaccines. “You can wait for things to come to you or be assertive and go after it,” she said. “We decided we were going to take a very proactive approach to the pandemic.”
Being proactive also meant reaching out to government leaders to make clear the chain’s value to the healthcare system during the pandemic. Fruth said she held a virtual meeting with the chief of staff of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice that proved productive.
“We were able to put forth our thoughts about brands we have in West Virginia and the value we have as a brand,” she said. “We were the first pharmacy and first chain in West Virginia to stand up the everyday COVID testing in our location at the drive thru. We are still doing that. It is a pharmacist observed, self-administered interior nasal swab.”
Ultimately, Fruth noted that regional chains’ strengths lie in their knowledge of their patient base and geographic footprint.
“We believe we know better how to take care of our own state than someone from a big populated area,” she said. “We know barriers with the rural nature, the lack of internet and all of the things that make West Virginia a little more difficult. Prior to the vaccine, the National Guard had been focused on doing a tremendous amount of testing. As soon as the vaccine came in they were going to pivot. It opened up an opportunity for Fruth to pick up some of the slack in testing. It opened up an opportunity for us to say to the guard, ‘Let us take the pressure off in these counties where we have a heavy presence.’”
Fruth Pharmacy is exemplar of a regional chain that makes its value clear to policymakers and the patients it serves. Jaeger noted that doing so for all of NACDS’ members has been a priority throughout the pandemic.
“We’re working together at all levels of government to showcase the tremendous value of community pharmacy,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of transformational change already since our last conference. The pandemic has been a great accelerant. Most businesses in America were shutting down. It was pharmacies that stood up to the plate, out there from the first day.”
Jaeger credited NACDS' constant contact with federal agencies in setting up chains' COVID response to be a success. "We’re able to say if supply was available, and there is demand by the American public, pharmacy can readily push out 100 million vaccine doses in 100 days," she said. “We have great opportunities in front of us and a new pharmacy care model coming out of the pandemic.”
Earlier in the first day of NACDS Regional, NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson highlighted the efforts the organization has taken to tout pharmacy’s capabilities and the ways that the organization has fought for regional members to play a role in testing and vaccination.
“Regional chains are playing a huge role in restoring hope for individuals and communities. Regional chains are involved in COVID testing and influential in highly effective testing programs,” he said. “Much has been written about the impact COVID will have on the world, the country, the people and on your businesses. It’s been a great accelerant. What we thought would happen in 10 years, happened in ten months in 2020."