DEERFIELD, Ill. — Kermit Crawford, who retired as Walgreen Co.’s president of pharmacy, health and wellness on December 31, ended his career at Walgreens the same way he began it 31 years ago — providing the best in patient care.
Building on the ethos instilled in him by his mother, Doris Crawford, while he was growing up in Alvin, Texas, Crawford never tired of seeking new ways to make retail pharmacy more effective and extend its reach.
“My mom was a nurse, so helping people was just part of my DNA,” relates Crawford, who worked for Walgreens since getting out of school. “That attitude was reinforced by observing the local pharmacist, whom we all called Doc. He knew everyone and he was a big influence in the community.”
Crawford learned those lessons well and, by force of his ability, personality and position, became a leading advocate for retail pharmacy and its ability to make greater contributions to the U.S. health care system.
For his work at the nation’s largest drug store chain and contributions to the profession, Chain Drug Review has presented Crawford with its Ronald L. Ziegler Lifetime Achievement Award.
[symple_box color=”red” fade_in=”false” float=”right” text_align=”center” width=””]
CHAIN DRUG REVIEW 2014 RONALD L. ZIEGLER
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
[/symple_box]Another major influence that shaped Crawford’s thinking and his attitude toward pharmacy was his years at Texas Southern University, which he attended on a basketball scholarship. “It was a small school and an historically black college, so everyone there really pulled together to succeed,” he recalls. “The professors, other staff members and students worked together to make sure that we graduated and passed the board. I came to understand that if the organization did well, we all did well. I brought that idea with me to Walgreens.”
Crawford’s association with the company began in April 1983, when he became a pharmacy intern. He joined the company on a full-time basis later that year after graduating with a bachelor of science degree in pharmacy. The rapidly expanding drug chain offered a wealth of opportunity, and Crawford steadily advanced, serving as a store manager in Houston, district manager in Chicago, district manager in the Pacific Northwest (where he facilitated the opening of Walgreens’ first stores in Washington and Oregon), regional vice president in Houston and Chicago, and vice president of store operations in Chicago.
A turning point came in 2004, when Greg Wasson, whom he had known since they were both store managers in Houston and who would later become Walgreens’ president and chief executive officer (a post he stepped down from at the end of last year), asked Crawford to join the non-retail division of the company. Walgreens Health Services operated such businesses as mail-order pharmacy, home infusion and specialty pharmacy (those assets, along with the balance of WHS, were subsequently either folded back into the parent company or divested).
Crawford ran Walgreens Health Initiatives, the pharmacy benefits management operation, taking it from 2 million patient lives to 10 million before being named the parent company’s senior vice president of pharmacy services in 2007.
“WHI was really an important experience for me,” says Crawford. “It gave me a clear understanding of the pharma supplier and the payer, and that was critical in the development of my thinking about pharmacy, health and wellness.
“I already had a good understanding of patients, having been face to face with them in the stores every day. I knew all about the B-to-C relationship. At the PBM I had a chance to learn about the importance of our other customers, the payers, how to see things from their perspective and the ways in which B-to-B and B-to-C connected.”
That experience served Crawford well, prompting him to set out to build stronger relationships with other health care stakeholders. His efforts were a forerunner of the collaborative practice models that Walgreens and other community pharmacy operators are emphasizing today.
“When I was chosen to head Walgreens’ pharmacy services, we started developing the pharma relationship group. We discovered that pharma companies didn’t see retail as part of their market access strategy.
“We worked hard to change that and demonstrate the value of retail pharmacy. That helped open the door to other product and service offerings, like flu shots and other immunizations, within our stores.
“We also began considering direct distribution of pharmaceutical products. We were doing it on the generic side, then started looking at it on the branded side. That, in turn, led to our 10-year drug distribution contract with AmerisourceBergen.”
Crawford’s tenure as of head Walgreens’ core pharmacy business — he was named an executive vice president in 2010 and a year later became president of pharmacy, health and wellness — saw the company accelerate its efforts to expand the scope of pharmacy practice and shift the basis of reimbursement from medications dispensed to services rendered and outcomes delivered. In the process, patient access was enhanced and total health care costs reduced.
“At Walgreens we’re always looking at all of the different parts of an integrated health care delivery system, and retail pharmacy’s place within it,” Crawford notes. “When you think about the innovation that is taking place at a company like Walgreens, this is just the next step in a transformation that has been under way for a long time. It started years ago when we linked all of our pharmacy computer systems together with Intercom Plus, and it has continued to this day.”
Other new concepts implemented by the company over the years include drive-through pharmacies; flu shots and vaccines; medication therapy management; Well Transitions, a program designed to ensure that patients being discharged from the hospital receive the right medications and use them correctly at home; in-store clinics; digital and mobile technology to connect with patients; and electronic health records.
“We’re constantly asking, ‘How do our pharmacists play a greater role in the delivery of health care, and how do we leverage all of our assets as an integrated health care model?’ ” says Crawford. “We always try to look beyond traditional channels and put the needs of the patient first and foremost.”
The skill of the company’s pharmacists and the breadth and depth of the capabilities that support and complement their contributions is transforming Walgreens’ stores from traditional dispensaries into neighborhood health care centers, a shift that Crawford asserts is particularly important in the medically underserved communities where 60% of the drug chain’s outlets are located.
“In many of these areas, health care is just not available,” he says. “The access to high-quality care isn’t there, and pharmacists are in a position to provide it. Walgreens can provide that care, at a quality equal to or better than other providers, and do so at a cost that is lower to the system.
“It’s important that the profession of pharmacy continues to evolve to address many of these unmet health care needs. There’s no other health care professional that is as well positioned as the community pharmacist.”
One key to unlocking the full potential of pharmacists is winning recognition as health care providers from the federal government. Crawford, who in addition to his duties at Walgreens was a member of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores board of directors, has lent his full support to that change.
If retail pharmacy as a whole is poised to have a bigger impact on health care, Walgreens — thanks in good measure to Crawford’s perspicacity and leadership — is especially well suited to flourish in the new environment.
“One of the authors that I became very fond of early on was W.E.B. Du Bois,” notes Crawford, who remains an advisor to the company following the recent completion of its merger with Alliance Boots. “He said that there is no greater force than the force of a person determined to rise. That is how I have pursued my career here at Walgreens. “When you start thinking about our new pharmacy design and some of the technology that we have put in place over the years to stretch the boundaries of the profession, and really being the leader in freeing up pharmacists so that they can spend more time with patients, it’s amazing. We’ve moved a long way from the transactional relationships that we had in the past to relationships based more on interactions with patients that are really focused on driving outcomes.
“It will be exciting to see the impact that the combination of Walgreens and Alliance Boots has on this industry. I’ll be the biggest cheerleader sitting on the sidelines wishing all these guys the best.”