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Hurricane Harvey forces store closures

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Retailers take action to supply medications and other aid

Hurricane Harvey_Texas National Guard rescue

In Houston, Texas National Guardsmen rescue a resident by boat during flooding from Hurricane Harvey. (Photo: Army National Guard)

HOUSTON — Along with residents, retailers in southeast Texas were pounded by Hurricane Harvey as the storm drenched the region with historical levels of rainfall.

The hurricane, which hit the Texas Gulf Coast on Friday and has since been downgraded to a tropical storm, caused massive flooding throughout the region and forced hundreds of pharmacies to close, at least temporarily.

Drug, mass merchant and supermarket chains shut stores with prescription counters throughout the region as Harvey battered the area with high winds and rain that turned streets and highways into rivers. Retailers scrambled to set up mobile pharmacies to meet residents’ medical needs and to provide emergency supplies at stores that remained open.

Damage from the storm was projected to potentially exceed the $15 billion caused in 2004 by Charley, the last category 4 hurricane to make U.S. landfall.

Walgreens reported that thus far it had about 90 stores closed. For the stores that continued to operate, the company was providing frequent deliveries of water and other items. The chain was also working with the American Red Cross to see how it could help with additional recovery efforts. (Click here for an update on Walgreens’ recovery and relief effort.)

CVS Health said late Monday that CVS Pharmacy it’s still assessing how Hurricane Harvey has impacted more than 200 locations in the greater Houston region. The company plans to bring mobile pharmacies into the area as safety permits. At the mobile units, customers will be able to pick up prescriptions, buy over-the-counter medicines and receive vaccines.

Walmart was forced to shutter almost as many stores, including Supercenters as well as Sam’s Club and Walmart Neighborhood ­Market locations.

Both Walmart and San Antonio-based H-E-B dispatched mobile pharmacies. Walmart sent the units to Rockport, Portland and Aransas Pass. H-E-B mobilized its Emergency Response Team and dispatched Disaster Response Units (DRUs), which have a pharmacy, to its store in Victoria. The units allowed displaced residents to fill prescriptions, cash checks and pay bills and provided ATM access.

Hurricane Harvey_Texas National Guard rescue

Houston residents trapped by flooding are helped onto a military vehicle by Texas National Guardsmen. (Photo: Army National Guard)

The DRUs were part of an H-E-B convoy of more than 15 vehicles that included two mobile kitchens, water and fuel tankers, and trailers. More than 100 H‑E‑B employees volunteered to accompany the convoy and assist affected residents. The convoy delivered supplies including food, water, ice, dry goods and medicine.

Kroger Co. said late Monday that the mobile Kroger Pharmacy is on its way to the Houston area to help refill customer prescriptions, provide vaccinations, and perform blood pressure and glucose screenings.

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores reported Monday that partner Healthcare Ready, a nonprofit that works to maintain patient access to health care during disasters, has activated Rx Open, an online mapping tool that shows open pharmacies in Texas and Louisiana.

In addition, NACDS said, Healthcare Ready is monitoring the activation of the Emergency Prescription Assistance Program (EPAP), which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can activate at the request of affected states. The program will provide free prescriptions for uninsured patients in the impacted areas. Patients in need of prescription coverage are also encouraged to apply for the free Partnership for Prescription Assistance program (PPARx), a pharmaceutical industry initiative that helps patients find a prescription program or free/low-cost clinic based on their needs.

Healthcare Ready, too, is helping ensure access to Tdap vaccines for survivors and responders, according to NACDS. Currently, pharmacists in Texas are authorized to administer Tdap vaccinations.

The American Red Cross is also providing clients in the shelters with up to $500 co-pay and medicine replacement assistance, NACDS added.

Meanwhile, the National Community Pharmacists Association has posted a Hurricane Harvey Pharmacy Resources page on its website. The page notes that Texas pharmacies needing to dispense emergency refills have been issued guidance from state health officials. According to information from the Texas Board of Pharmacy, pharmacists can refill a prescription — except for a Schedule II controlled substance — in the event of an emergency or natural disaster so that a patient’s medication therapy isn’t interrupted. Such situations allow pharmacists to dispense up to a 30-day supply.

To help with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, CVS said the company and the CVS Health Foundation are donating $200,000 in cash and product donations. CVS reported that federal officials expect the storm to have driven 30,000 people into shelters and 450,000 people to seek disaster aid.

The CVS Health Foundation has donated $50,000 each to the Greater Houston Community Foundation and the American Red Cross and $25,000 to the Salvation Army to help residents in the greater Houston area start the recovery and rebuilding effort. CVS said it also is inviting employees to make a donations to the relief efforts, and the company will match their donations up to $25,000.

CVS Health also is donating $25,000 of products including personal hygiene, cleanup and over-the-counter items, and the company said the CVS Health Employee Relief Fund will provide support to employees affected by the disaster.

“We want to offer any assistance we can to our customers, colleagues and communities affected by this disaster,” Eileen Howard Boone, senior vice president of corporate social responsibility and philanthropy at CVS Health, said in a statement.

“Both CVS Health and the CVS Health Foundation are committed to ensuring that residents hit hard by this disaster have continued access to critical pharmacy care and the nonprofit partners, first responders, and government agencies leading the relief efforts on the ground have the critical supplies and financial support they need to help those most in need,” added Boone, who also is president of the CVS Health Foundation.

Kroger also announced a $100,000 donation to the Houston Food Bank, and the retailer said it will continue to aid rescue organizations, shelters and first responders with food, water and toiletries.

As the hurricane approached, CVS Pharmacy and CVS Caremark, the company’s pharmacy benefits management arm, activated a process that enables pharmacists to provide one-time emergency refills of a 10-day supply of medication.

With evacuation orders in effect along the Texas coast, CVS urged patients to visit stores to ensure they had the medications they needed to ride out the storm. The chain reached out to pharmacy patients via text message and email to remind them to refill scripts before the severe weather hit, according to Kevin Hourican, executive vice president of retail pharmacy and supply chain for CVS Health. CVS also stocked stores with emergency items including water, batteries, flashlights and first aid supplies.

Also before the storm, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation made a commitment to provide support for relief efforts through cash and product donations of at least $1 million. The company worked closely with the Red Cross, Salvation Army and Convoy of Hope while coordinating efforts with elected officials and governmental entities to help meet the needs of those affected.

*Article updated.


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