Foot Soldiers and Innovators

July 18, 2017

There are many people in urban areas who think that the independent pharmacy is a thing of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth, and that point was proven over and over again on a "working" tour I made recently with my wife Cindy to Western New York, Vermont, and Ontario. 

In Ithaca, NY, we met alumna Nicole Pagano '05 who runs Green Street Pharmacy with her husband and alumnus John '03. In addition to running a very busy pharmacy with an old fashioned soda fountain, Nicole is actively engaged in combatting the opioid epidemic in her community. Nicole and John are not only coordinating naloxone distribution with providers in free clinics but are also involved in grassroots fundraising to provide basic hygienic and health care services to community members in need.

Victor Lee '88 is an entrepreneurial alumnus in Toronto who followed his father and immigrated to Canada from China. He proudly took me to Chinatown to show me the location of the original family store before we visited his current pharmacy. The newer pharmacy - Victor Pharmacy - is very modern and located in bustling downtown Toronto. It features, among other things, a robust compounding lab. Victor's wife Courtney is also a pharmacist and partner in the family business (this is a recurring theme). His daughter, Veronica, will be a P2 student at ACPHS this year, and his son, Nathaniel, will be a first-year pre-pharmacy student here in the fall.

Speaking of compounding, few people know more about the subject than Sanjay Gandhi '95 who owns Rolling Hills Pharmacy and Riddell Park Pharmacy & Compounding Centre in Orangeville, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. Sanjay is also very entrepreneurial. He is using the compounding skills he learned at ACPHS and his deep connections to the local medical community to creatively solve problems that arise in everyday practice. By the way, Sanjay's wife Ursula '96 is also an alumna, yet another husband-wife team in the independent pharmacy business.

After breakfast with Chris Casey '79, I visited his Mead Square Pharmacy in the idyllic village of Victor, NY. He unlocked the door of the pharmacy a few minutes before it opened, where we were greeted by his eager young staff of technicians and pharmacists who were already busy working away. When the store opened, it became clear to me that my time with Chris had come to an end as too many people needed his attention. As I left, I could see Chris doing an on-the-spot consultation with a patient in the aisle of the store.

The next stop was Holland Patent, NY, a small town on the edge of the Adirondacks, where we visited with Bob Black '91 at his Holland Patent Pharmacy. Bob is an astute pharmacist and businessman who provides Medication Therapy Management (MTM) services out of his pharmacy, something few independents do. His pharmacy is a mainstay of the community, and his services are clearly appreciated. To illustrate this point, Bob told me the story of a plumber who did not charge him for his services because he wanted to make sure Bob stayed in town. We were joined that day by Gordy Dailey '57, another alumnus and independent pharmacist, who helped Bob get established in Holland Patent. Somehow we got to talking about veterinary pharmacy, and Gordy regaled us with stories about the concoctions he once made to treat milk fever and other barnyard ailments.

After this tour of upstate New York and Ontario, we met with Corey Duteau '97 of Freedom Pharmacy in Winooski, VT. Sitting atop a Rite Aid, this independent is virtually a stone's throw from our Vermont Campus. Corey's father, Real, and his brother, Mike, are both alumni (Mike is also a trustee of the College), and Corey's wife Kelly assists in the business end of the pharmacy. Corey's patients tend to have special needs and require multiple medications, and his customized approach to their care has proven to be a success.

As I think about my visits to these independents, I cannot help but remember the old phrase, "necessity is the mother of invention." This group is on the frontline of care in their communities and has earned a great deal of respect and admiration for the work that they do.

When problems arise that require creative solutions, they have the skills and innovative spirit that allow them to find these solutions. Their approach is always grounded in serving the best interests of their patients.

Not only are these pharmacies vibrant operations that provide critical services to their communities, but independents represent a substantial component of pharmacy care nationwide (about one-third of all retail prescriptions are filled at independent pharmacies).

According to the National Community Pharmacists Association, there are an estimated 22,160 "small business community pharmacies." Approximately 1,800 of these are rural independent pharmacies serving as the only pharmacy provider in their community, with the next closest pharmacy many miles away.

ACPHS has a long and proud tradition of producing creative and successful independents. The next time you are in a small town in upstate New York, Vermont, or Southern Ontario, stop by the local independent. I'll bet you a soda from Green Street Pharmacy that a graduate of ACPHS runs it.

Greg Dewey, Ph.D., is President of Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

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