At this week’s NACDS Annual Meeting, Rick Keyes will conclude what is probably the most unusual and challenging term experienced by any of the association’s chairmen. Thrust into the role a year earlier than planned, when Richard Ashworth left Walgreens Boots Alliance to join Tivity Health, Keyes was tasked with guiding NACDS through myriad trials and tribulations stemming from COVID-19.
Keyes, who is president and CEO of Meijer Inc., did not miss a beat. In addition to daily communication with NACDS president and CEO Steve Anderson, Keyes led the board in forging an industrywide response to the pandemic, one that prompted the federal government to harness the power and reach of retail pharmacy to facilitate access to COVID testing and immunizations. At the same time, he served to inspire his colleagues. Colleen Lindholz, who is president of Kroger Health and will become NACDS chair this week, recalls the impact of Keyes’ remarks about how pharmacies and pharmacists would help heal the country.
Looking back at the past year, Keyes says, “It really was an honor to serve alongside an amazing board of directors. Chain drug stores came together with a purpose — to make a difference and to help our communities. We realized anew the real importance of this industry to our nation.”
Trained as a pharmacist who began his career at store level, Keyes has always held that view, but he asserts that the pandemic has brought the pharmacy profession to the fore among a broad audience like never before. “The experience has highlighted the vital role that pharmacy plays in our country and in the health care industry,” he says. “We really think that it’s an opportunity for us to move forward and to continue to grow the span of care, and the opportunity for us to operate at our full potential here in the United States.”
One high priority for NACDS is to convince government officials to lock in the enlarged scope of practice that community pharmacy has been granted during the COVID emergency. “It’s something that we’re working very diligently on,” notes Keyes. “We think that some of the expansions that took place around testing, vaccinations and the role that pharmacy’s been able to play are really a springboard for us into the future.
“So we are talking with our representatives in Congress, meeting diligently on Capitol Hill and with the administration to say, ‘How do we extend this?’ We oftentimes think of things in the immediate term, but there are several years ahead of us fighting this pandemic; beyond that, we think that pharmacy can play a key role here in the United States.”
As NACDS pursues its agenda, which, in addition to COVID and scope of practice, includes ensuring adequate compensation for pharmacy service and the ongoing opioid crisis, the association is taking that message to legislators and other officials in state capitols as well as in Washington. “One of the things that this pandemic has really brought home for us is it’s not only about federal policy, we also have to work at the state level. We have really increased our emphasis in the states, and I think that’s going to pay dividends for NACDS and the industry moving forward.”
Another area where NACDS makes an important contribution is facilitating communication that helps keep the supply chain running smoothly. That work has never been more important than it is right now. “We’re cycling the start of the pandemic last year, which brings back a lot of memories,” Keyes says. “One of the things that was acute during that time frame was the demand on the supply chain. We all saw a doubling of our business overnight and a desire to buy certain categories, whether it was paper products, sanitizers, wipes or face masks.
“It was really amazing to see how our industry came together and collaborated and worked through that in 2020, and even today, to make sure that we have those critical products on the shelf. One of the things that makes NACDS special is the collaboration and the partnership that is the foundation of the association — chain pharmacies’ interaction with our 900 vendor partners and how we work together. As we talk about the Annual Meeting, it’s all about collaborating and partnering. I couldn’t be more proud of how the industry has responded and risen to the occasion over the past year.”
Keyes also has reason to take pride in the contributions he has made to NACDS and its members. By providing a steady hand during turbulent times, he enabled the association to mount a robust response to COVID, while not losing sight of its long-term objectives.