IRVING, Texas — Due to the severity of COVID-19, mandates forced the shutdown of many small businesses, including some in the health care industry. Many of these businesses, including independent pharmacies, have suffered severe economic hardship due to various safety measures. When the pandemic hit, many of these pharmacies had to drastically and immediately adjust their business models to stay afloat, while others were forced to close up shop for good. Those that remained in operation had to worry about not only keeping their businesses up and running, but serving the needs of their patients and customers while keeping their personnel and staff safe. Fortunately, many independent pharmacies, including Health Mart pharmacies, were able to benefit from McKesson’s RxOwnership, which brings together the unmatched expertise of McKesson with the dedication of its ownership advisors to support the needs of current and future pharmacy owners.
Chris Cella, national vice president of RxOwnership at McKesson, says the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19 highlighted the importance of RxOwnership more than ever. With the help and guidance of his team, many of these indie pharmacists were better able to take advantage of the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act) — a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress in late March. Though some small businesses were hurt more than others, all were affected in some way — and still are — and Cella says McKesson continues to help all independent pharmacies navigate through the storm. “Independent pharmacies are really trying to weather this,” Cella says, adding that despite the conventional wisdom that “health care is recession proof,” many pharmacies are still struggling to survive, and McKesson continues to help educate them on how they can best utilize the programs made available to them from the CARES Act.
The Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, in particular, was a tremendous help and relief to many small businesses because it ensured they could retain their personnel. This program, implemented by the Small Business Administration with support from the Department of the Treasury, provided small businesses with funds to pay up to eight weeks of payroll costs, including benefits. Additionally, PPP loans are forgivable so long as employers retain employees at comparable salary levels prior to the crisis. The PPP also waives all SBA fees and provides deferral on loan repayments for a minimum of six months up to a maximum of one year. These are just some of the details the RxOwnership team can relay to their pharmacy customers.
The CARES Act, Cella says, represents “the biggest injection of goodwill” that any small business could have asked for and, through the information communicated by RxOwnership, many independent pharmacies were able to capitalize and continue to serve their communities. Pharmacists, Cella says, are really altruistic in nature and just want to take care of their customers and do not want to have to focus so much attention and time on the financials, which is why RxOwnership is such a valuable tool to provide resources to help many of these pharmacists cut through the bureaucratic fog and complexities of the CARES Act and get back to being pharmacists. And for some pharmacies, PPP funds could be used to build a cash reserve postpandemic. “Pharmacy economics haven’t changed,” he says, adding that DIR (direct and indirect reimbursement) fees, other reimbursement issues and other challenges pharmacists routinely face are still going to be there whenever COVID is a thing of the past.
“Those same issues will be there, but if that money was banked for a rainy day then that could have been a great way to help strengthen a business when the scales change back to normal.” But before that happens, Cella already sees how the value of pharmacies is even going up during the pandemic. Prior to COVID, the health care paradigm was already shifting from one of primarily taking care of patients that were already sick to focusing on keeping patients from getting sick in the first place. Now, with COVID, Cella says there is a lot more communication among independent pharmacies, McKesson and Health Mart, which have teamed up with the Department of Health and Human Services to increase COVID-19 test collection sites and access.
“So we see a lot more people coming into our pharmacies not only for testing but for sanitizers and vitamins,” Cella says. And with flu season now upon us, Cella adds, there’s even greater need for pharmacies to help those in their communities focus on staying healthy. Part of this equation includes the front ends of these pharmacies, which, with many stay-at-home orders now lifted, are seeing increases in traffic and sales as more customers purchase vitamins, O-T-Cs, and other goods these front ends offer. Pharmacy, as is health care in general, is an industry in constant flux, and Cella believes that once the pandemic is over there will be permanent changes to health care — and some will be positive, such as people taking greater stock in their personal health and the health of their families. But Cella also hopes that the importance and value of pharmacists highlighted by the pandemic will provide the impetus to finally designate pharmacists with health care provider status in all 50 states, thereby enabling them to further practice at the height of their license. “I think at this point there has been no better opportunity and example of what independents pharmacies do and have done,” he says. “They are out there on the front lines and at the forefront of health care.”
In particular, Cella points out that indies often operate in areas in most need of a health care provider, such as underserved or rural communities. But RxOwnership does more than help pharmacies understand and benefit from legislation, such as the CARES Act. The program helps those pharmacists looking to buy, start up or sell a pharmacy. Pharmacy ownership transfer is complex and can be daunting for those with Pharm.D. degrees, not MBAs — whether an owner is looking to sell a chain of pharmacies or purchase a new pharmacy business. Since the start of the program in 2008, the RxOwnership team has helped more than 6,000 pharmacy owners through the pharmacy transition/ownership process by working closely with their customers and McKesson field sales, marketing, analytics and finance to help with nearly every aspect of buying or selling a pharmacy. All of these services and tools, Cella says, are geared to one ultimate goal: to help pharmacists get back to doing what they know and love — and that’s taking care of people.
Even during a global pandemic, Cella notes that pharmacists remain one of the most accessible and trusted of health care providers. “When you see other providers, you have to stay in your car, wait to go in, have your temperature taken,” he says. “With your neighborhood pharmacist, however, you can walk right in, following state protocols. Your pharmacist is always going to be your most accessible provider.”