Lindholz leads group of 22,000 health care professionals.
CINCINNATI — Colleen Lindholz and her team are continuing to lead initiatives and create innovative programs to help people live happier, healthier lives.
As the president of Kroger Health, the health care division of Kroger Co., she heads up a group of 22,000 health care professionals. Together they provide health and wellness solutions to more than 14 million people every year. She is very passionate about Kroger Health’s vision to help people live healthier lives. Lindholz is also the main architect behind the company’s Food as Medicine strategy, connecting customers’ grocery experience with their health care needs through innovations in education, training and technology.
It’s an ambitious initiative that’s goal is improving the health of the American people by leveraging all of the company’s formidable assets — grocery stores, pharmacies, walk-in clinics, dietitians and nutritionists — to change the way Americans eat.
In addition, Kroger Health and the entire Kroger family of companies have bravely stepped up when and where they were needed most in the battle against COVID-19.
For all these accomplishments, the editors of Chain Drug Review have named Colleen Lindholz the publication’s Pharmacy Executive of the Year.
Lindholz joined Kroger as a pharmacist back in 1995. She says that Kroger’s Food as Medicine strategy was the outgrowth of a vision that she had early in her career while she was heading up one of the company’s busiest pharmacies from 1998 to 2002. It was there that her passionate commitment to a more holistic approach to health care was first born.
“Back then we filled thousands of scripts per week there,” she recalls. “And it was there that I was able to understand the breadth and scope of what we could really do beyond the pharmacy counter. While I went to pharmacy school to dispense, by getting the opportunity to be a part of the total grocery store team, I realized just filling prescriptions was not enough — we could and needed to do more.”
Lindholz then moved into the operations end of the business after enrolling in Kroger’s management training program. “This helped me get to know the food, over-the-counter and front end of the store. The move really set the stage for being able to live the ultimate dream, and that was to launch the Food as Medicine strategy and platform that we have for the company,” she points out.
In 2013 Lindholz was promoted to director of pharmacy sales and marketing for Kroger corporate, and in 2015 she took over as president of The Little Clinic (TLC), which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Kroger. Two years later oversight of Kroger’s pharmacies was added to her portfolio, and she was named president of pharmacy and TLC. With all of the major elements of Kroger’s health and wellness business under her leadership, Lindholz rebranded and launched it nationwide as Kroger Health.
Today, leading a team of pharmacists, nurse practitioners, physicians assistants, dietitians and technicians working in Kroger’s network of nearly 2,800 stores, 2,200-plus pharmacies and some 222 clinics, Lindholz is laser focused on implementing the Food as Medicine strategy through the pursuit of defined goals.
One major initiative, which is called 20×5 by 2025, is a companywide commitment to improve key areas of population health by 20% by the year 2025. By tackling areas such as obesity, diabetes and food insecurities, the initiative seeks to reduce overall health care costs by $58 billion five years from now.
The retailer is calling on its partners among consumer-packaged goods manufacturers and food processors to innovate and bring to market affordable better-for-you food.
“The program involves really going after key areas that impact population health like obesity, diabetes and food insecurities; all of those can be positively affected by making healthier food choices and improving access to healthier foods,” Lindholz explains. “In addition, we’re committed to having 15,000 affordable, better-for-you SKUs on our shelves by 2025.”
When COVID-19 hit, the company quickly turned on a dime and strategically answered the call to action. “I’m very proud of our CEO Rodney McMullen and my company’s response to the pandemic. The Kroger blueprint that we created and shared with other businesses was very comprehensive and amazing. We also partnered with the local, state and federal government agencies that we had never partnered with before. It was about everyone coming together as a community with one common goal. We rose to the challenge by practicing at the top of our licenses, adopting new ways of working, and innovating with urgency to ensure our services are optimized for this new reality. And we are doing all of this while ensuring the safety of our associates and our customers,” Lindholz notes.
She points out that COVID really accelerated the chain’s efforts around telehealth. “With more people cooking and eating at home, we launched free telenutrition services, offering free appointments with our team of registered dietitians via two-way video chat during the entirety of the COVID-19 crisis.” The company also shifted many of its clinics to telehealth, enabling patients to consult with nurse practitioners from their own homes.
“We optimized curbside pickup to enable touchless prescription services, as well as waived pickup and delivery fees, and we rearranged seating in our waiting areas and updated our vaccine protocols to protect patients, pharmacists and clinicians.”
Kroger was among the first national retailers to step up and offer to provide resources for COVID-19 testing. It began with drive-thru testing, providing 150,000 tests in partnership with local, state and federal authorities. “Because of the need for scale and to serve our own associates, we applied and received an EUA [emergency use authorization] from the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] for our own At-Home Collection kit, which combines self-administered testing with virtual supervision from our team of licensed health care professionals,” says Lindholz. As part of its COVID-19 strategy, Kroger launched Rapid Antibody testing in November at all pharmacies and clinics across the country and Rapid Antigen Testing in its TLC locations. Additional locations for Rapid Antigen Testing will come in FY 2021 when industry issues including supply chain and billing concerns are overcome.
Kroger is part of Operation Warp Speed, the effort by the White House to get a vaccine to market as speedily and safely as possible. The grocery and pharmacy chain will carry a coronavirus vaccine in its pharmacies and clinics when available.
Lindholz adds that the people in the supply chain are some of the biggest heroes. “Our supply chain is out there on the front lines day in and out. It has been huge provider during the pandemic. We reinforced our supply chain best practices by monitoring rapidly changing consumer trends, focusing on in-demand products, maintaining high productivity and prioritizing the health and safety of our associates.”
Lindholz points out that the pandemic has really brought the pharmacist to the forefront. “We’ve always said it will be our nation’s community pharmacists that would be leading the these types of efforts because of their accessibility. I’m really proud of the pharmacy profession. It has been great to see the dedication and commitment of the pharmacists as they have stepped to the forefront to be a part of the solution.”
In 2020 Lindholz was named the vice chair of the board at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, in addition to her role as treasurer.
“The work of NACDS is critical, with a pro-patient, pro-pharmacy agenda, we will tackle the most pressing issues that face our industry and strive to promote the role and value of community pharmacies,” she says.
Looking beyond the COVID-19 crisis, Lindholz sees health care at an inflection point. “Health care is becoming part of the everyday fabric of our lives,” she says. “Where we sit in the health care arena, we can augment and complement primary care because we see people more often, giving us the opportunity to help close gaps in care, thus improving outcomes. Good health is about taking care of people holistically. And I believe at Kroger we can help people live healthier lives by connecting the food side and the health care side, and we’re working very hard to bring that to life.”
She is proud of the company’s vision and mission and how employees are doing their part in helping people get through the pandemic. “It’s not only our health care associates, but our total company. It’s about the resiliency and the dedication of the 500,000-plus associates that work for Kroger. We’ve centered on our purpose and focused on our values. We’ve kept our people safe and our businesses moving. And we’ve done it all at a pace that matters. This has been something that’s been amazing to see. It’s a great opportunity to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself, making a difference in people’s lives, now and for years to come.”