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12/09/2020

NACDS leaders discuss the impact of COVID-19, role of pharmacists during leadership webinar

Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
Sandra Levy profile picture

For the retail pharmacy industry — as with the rest of the world — the past year has not been business as usual. Leaders from NACDS —  president and CEO Steve Anderson; chair Rick Keyes, who also is president and CEO of Meijer; and vice chair and treasurer Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger Health — came together Wednesday to discuss how the industry has risen to the occasion throughout the pandemic, and how it has highlighted pharmacy's role in health care.

“It has been a challenging, and historic time for our nation, but also for our NACDS members and for retail in general,” Anderson said at the outset of the event. Throughout, though the participants addressed how retailers, pharmacists, suppliers, and vendors have collaborated during this unprecedented healthcare crisis, to make a positive difference in Americans' lives.

“It has been incredible how our industry has come together serving customers, patients and making a difference in the lives of people in our communities,” Keyes said. "This is a time that we’ll never forget. We’ve always known that we’re an essential part of the ecosystem, but to see how our teams have risen up and the difference we’ve made in our communities is a tremendous point of pride.”

Keyes said that the industry is at an inflection point now, with discussions around a stimulus, a new administration coming in, a second wave of the pandemic and ongoing discussions about how the COVID vaccine will be rolled out. “It will be a Herculean effort. The role we’re going to be playing as pharmacies is going to be incredible. I’m proud of the work that has laid the groundwork. We’re going to have an opportunity and role to play in healing our country as well as in the roll-out of this vaccine.”

Lindholz, like Keyes, focused on the ways that all stakeholders — including companies that directly compete with each other — have embraced collaboration this year. She also noted that this collaboration has not come at the expense of individual companies' strong performance — something she attributed to customers appreciating the industry's work throughout the pandemic. 

"We are living our purpose, which is to feed the human spirit," she said. "We really believe people are hungry for more, for a destination where people know their name."

Keyes also said a focus on purpose has been a big driver at Meijer, particularly in the early days, when Meijer's the retail team, partners, and vendors worked together to meet customer needs. When there was panic buying, many suppliers ramped up production to help get Meijer back in stock so the retailers could take care of its customers.

“We’re a purpose-driven company; our value and purpose became incredibly important," Keye said. "We felt good about how we were able to move quickly and keep the safety and health of customers and team at the forefront,” he said.

We’ve always known that we’re an essential part of the ecosystem, but to see how our teams have risen up and the difference we’ve made in our communities is a tremendous point of pride.
Rick Keyes, Meijer president and CEO and NACDS chair

Keyes also believes that the environment has "pressure tested" the business, and that using and adapting to technology, has been the key to Meijer's success amid the pandemic, and going forward.

“Growth in our digital business has been incredible. In the early stages, we could not meet the demand with the amount of shoppers we had. We are excited with what we are able to do now, from a delivery and pick up standpoint, and how we’re using technology to enable success going forward," he said. "We do hiring in a virtual way now, which took days out of the hiring process. With Shop and Scan at our stores, customers can avoid checkout lanes. We’re also utilizing pharmacy apps to handle transactions before you even come to the store, so you can pick up and leave,” he said.

Lindholz highlighted how retailers have gone beyond simply retailing and played a role in offering COVID-19 testing, something Kroger was keen to get involved with. Starting with the goal of testing 100,000 people in 12 states in a drive-thru model, Kroger outperformed its testing expectations, Lindholz said. 

“We got to 170,000 people in 19 states,” she said, pointing out that Kroger also focused on a solution for its own associates. “We decided we’d apply to the FDA for an at-home test kit. That was a process I’ve never been through before. We have our own at home test kit which has been very helpful for our own associates, and to help other businesses reopen.”

For the industry, participants said that in many ways, COVID-19 has been an illuminator. Lindholz said the pandemic has been “shining the light on many different critical areas and bringing attention to the government, media and other stakeholders within the healthcare industry about the role we provide on a day to day basis for the health and wellness needs of the community. The role we played during this crisis, is one in which the pharmacist has risen to the forefront to be the provider and savior of the country. It has shown a light on the barriers that exist and can’t be ignored.”

Finally, Anderson said that the pandemic has illustrated perfectly the role that NACDS members play in society and in uniting the industry. “Our members are saving lives every day, and enhancing the lives of all Americans. They do this each and every day. That has been illustrated this year,” he said.

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