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Pharmacies have been vital to protecting the public

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PHILADELPHIA — Rite Aid’s pharmacies continue to play a vital role in every community the company serves, says chief pharmacy officer Karen ­Staniforth.

Karen ­Staniforth

“We are living our purpose, which is helping customers achieve whole health for life,” she says. “And that’s exactly what our teams are doing each and every day with the products, services and advice that they’re providing.”

The role of the pharmacies during the pandemic has grown to include COVID testing and vaccination administration for adults, adolescents and children, providing COVID-19 at-home test kits and giving away N95 masks. Once the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were approved by the FDA for Emergency Use Authorization, Rite Aid made the decision to support communities with both vaccines so as individuals needed boosters, they could receive either at their locations.

The teams learned to be quick and nimble to stay up to date on the latest guidance from the CDC. Rite Aid’s clinical and digital teams worked together daily to incorporate evolving CDC guidance into their vaccine scheduler to make it easy for customers to schedule their vaccines.

“Our pharmacists were trusted advisors to the communities they serve before COVID-19, and through the pandemic we were able to build vaccine confidence among our customers, which proved critical in protecting our communities,” Staniforth says.
What Rite Aid and other pharmacy operators have already accomplished with testing and immunizations will help them achieve the goals that the industry and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores have long sought, she adds — “to elevate the role of pharmacists and allow them to be greater participants in health care in general.”

“Our pharmacists and associates have risen to the challenges and increase in responsibilities required to help keep our communities healthy during the pandemic, and have demonstrated the important role pharmacies play in everyday whole health,” Staniforth says.

Rite Aid worked hard to balance customer and associate satisfaction and workload, and the company put into place various temporary initiatives such as closing pharmacies an hour early during weekdays and limiting vaccine walk-in hours during the height of the Omicron surge.

These measures were well received by associates, Staniforth says. “Closing one hour early on weekdays gave our pharmacists a chance to catch up and prepare for the next day. They recognized that we were listening to them and supporting them during this challenging time.”

For Rite Aid, a drive to emphasize the value of pharmacists and the central role they play in the health of their customers predated COVID.

“COVID-19 has really highlighted the importance of our go-forward plan. COVID will still be part of our lives, but we have learned how to build processes to manage the impact it has in our pharmacies,” Staniforth says. “Rite Aid’s RxEvolution strategy was built on putting the pharmacist front and center, improving access to our pharmacists for our customers, operating at the top of his or her license, thus allowing the customer to feel comfortable asking questions and seeking counseling and ­recommendations.”

The strategy also incorporates “the perfect fusion” of traditional and alternative remedies and curated, newly added over-the-counter and herbal products. And, Staniforth says, Rite Aid pharmacists are knowledgeable and eager to advise customers as whole health advocates.

“Consumers have always been comfortable coming to their pharmacist for advice for common conditions or needs outside of COVID. But the pandemic has accelerated pharmacists’ ability to connect with the consumer, and it’s up to us to build on those relationships as we go forward in the next phase of our growth strategy.”
Rite Aid is focused on using technology to support work flow, freeing up pharmacists to have the time to have those important customer consultations. “Technology such as our central-fill facility can help move prescription filling tasks out of stores to allow pharmacists time to interact with the customer in front of them.” Staniforth notes. “We are also listening to our pharmacy associates on the front lines who have great ideas of how we can be more efficient and put into place processes to ensure we have the time needed to spend with our customers.”

Training is key to ensure pharmacists feel knowledgeable about traditional and alternative medications, Staniforth says, and integrative pharmacy training is ongoing for new-hire pharmacists, while Rite Aid’s ACPE monthly training programs have been developed with a blend of alternative and traditional remedies.

Research shows that the average customer visits their pharmacy more than 30 times a year. “The opportunity is there for us to help our customers in between their doctor visits and support their health needs.”

The focus on integrative care is how Rite Aid aims to connect with the younger urban demographic that may be more inclined to get a prescription online than interact with an in-store pharmacist. Rite Aid made the latter more enticing as its pharmacists engaged with varied populations for testing and vaccinations. It has received positive feedback from customers on their vaccine and scheduling experience.

“Bringing together all of our existing assets to drive our strategy while looking for new opportunities to reach deeper into the communities we serve will be more important this year than ever before,” Staniforth says.

“If there is a general theme of what we have learned from the pandemic, it’s the need to be humble and flexible. We are excited to build on that trust, speed and flexibility we have gained as we go forward in being that everyday care connector in our communities.”


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