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Regional Chain of Year honor goes to Kinney

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"First and foremost Kinney is a community pharmacy."

GOUVERNEUR, N.Y. — Kinney Drugs can trace its history back to over 120 years ago when Burt Kinney established the very first store here in 1903. Over the next 95 years, the company slowly expanded to nearly 100 retail locations throughout upstate New York and Vermont. Beginning in 1998, Kinney Drugs began to diversify across a spectrum of pharmacy and health care services beginning with closed-door pharmacy HealthDirect Pharmacy Services, which now serves institutional clients from 24 locations in nine states.

John Marraffa

“For over 120 years, we have continued to strive to provide the highest-quality pharmacy, health and retail services at fair and competitive prices in our communities; to serve and satisfy the needs of our customers; to be responsive to the needs and goals of our employees; to manage our company’s resources to ensure a fair and equitable return on investment for our employee-owners; and to plan and provide for the continued growth of Kinney Drugs,” said John Marraffa, the company’s ­president.

These are just some of the reasons why Chain Drug Review has chosen Kinney Drugs as its Regional Chain of the Year.

Marraffa noted that in 2002, 501(c)(3) Kinney Drugs Foundation was established, and since then it has given nearly $1 million each year to local not-for-profit and community organizations. “The company opened PBM and mail order division ProAct Pharmacy Services in 2004, and it now serves self-insured mid-sized clients in all 50 states. Noble Health Services is our nationally accredited specialty pharmacy, founded in 2013. Noble now serves patients across the U.S. from locations in New York and Mississippi. In 2014, the organization was rebranded as KPH Healthcare Services Inc. On-site clinical care pharmacy Kinnect joined the growing roster of KPH divisions in 2019. Shortly thereafter, in 2020, the company acquired Aristacare, an infusion therapy pharmacy, and its complementary division HomeLife, which provides specialized nursing support for in-home infusion services. Also, in 2022 the company established Kinney Homecare, a durable medical equipment company with six locations in upstate New York.”

Marraffa started with KPH as vice president of government affairs and healthcare services integration in July 2019. “My original focus was on scaling and driving valuable outcomes for our existing pharmacy programs, as well as identifying new opportunities and partnerships for the delivery of integrated health care solutions companywide. I was also responsible for monitoring state and federal legislative and regulatory developments while working with internal and external stakeholders to assess and craft effective responses. In September 2021, I had the honor to be elected president of Kinney Drugs and entrusted with operational responsibility for the operation of the drug store division.”

He points out that over the years Kinney Drugs has benefited greatly from KPH’s diversification across various lines of business, which has helped the chain both mitigate risk and capitalize on growth opportunities. “We have also focused on identifying and leveraging synergies to better serve mutual clients and patients by offering complementary services across our eight divisions. But even more than diversification, the organization’s 2008 transition to a fully sanctioned 100% employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) company has had the most significant impact on the organization to date. Being employee owned has engendered a marked spirit of ownership throughout the organization, helping to align goals, lengthen the horizon for decision making, and encourage employees to have a real voice in management. Being an ESOP has also helped KPH recruit and retain top talent and has ensured that the organization can be nimble enough to react quickly to changing market conditions and opportunities. For example, Kinney Drugs was among the first pharmacies to begin administering vaccines in 2008. And in 2017, KPH invested in a state-of-the-art central fill facility/high-volume solution, creating significant efficiencies and cost savings across the entire KPH organization.”

Marraffa said that there were challenges with COVID. “At the outset of the pandemic, we realized quickly that our customers — and the public at large — were both afraid and frustrated, and didn’t know whom to trust for reliable, timely information. We decided to be that source for them. So, Kinney developed a Be the First to Know COVID communications program that allowed subscribers to receive a text message and/or email when the CDC recommendations changed for COVID vaccinations, and/or when appointments for vaccinations or testing opened at their local Kinney.”

He added that the company also partnered with statewide Offices for the Aging to conduct senior COVID clinics and to help seniors make vaccination appointments. “Kinney Drugs was the only pharmacy in the nation to train pharmacists in comfort immunization techniques and to offer Buzzy the Vaccine Bee, a bee-shaped device that uses ice and vibration to confuse nerve endings at the injection site and ‘take the sting out of shots’. Buzzy proved particularly helpful for children and for individuals with needle fear and/or sensory issues.”

He said the company’s teams can operationalize initiatives very quickly, allowing Kinney to be first to market with prescription-to-O-T-C switches including Voltaren, O-T-C hearing aids and, most recently, Narcan nasal spray. “We also respond quickly to emergencies such as record flooding in Vermont, which significantly damaged two of our stores. Our Cambridge store, which was partially submerged, was able to reopen in just three weeks. And our Montpelier store was a total loss right down to the floorboards. But by working together and leveraging our local relationships, we were able to fully reopen within 10 weeks — well before our national competitor was hanging ­sheetrock.”

He said that first and foremost Kinney is a community pharmacy. “We recently celebrated our 120th anniversary, and I attribute our longevity to strong community ties and partnerships fostered through listening, communicating and what I call ‘showing up.’ We garner feedback from our employees and customers in a variety of ways, including employee and customer satisfaction surveys, third-party reviews (Google, Yelp, etc.), social media channels, email, and phone. Much of this feedback is distilled through a single platform, which allows us to drill down into each store, identify consumer sentiments, and address any issues within 48 hours. Each store gets a custom store-specific monthly report that highlights what is working and not working and identifies trends. The goal is to empower our stores to take appropriate corrective actions when needed and to double down on those things that customers value the most.”

He added that communications with customers is key. “We built a custom platform that allows subscribers to ‘be the first to know’ via text and/or email when vaccines — and now other health care products and services — are available at their local Kinney markets. We are still the only pharmacy in our markets that provides customers with truly localized, up-to-the-minute health information. Our communications team has also worked hard to develop relationships with local reporters throughout our markets, so that when we have an important message, they help us to get it out there. We have professionally trained a group of pharmacists to act as spokespersons, providing a local voice and presence in the media as opportunities arise with much greater responsiveness than our national competitors.”

“Showing up is important; when our communities need us, we show up to work events, volunteer, give back, donate needed products, or whatever else is needed. For example, the Kinney Drugs Foundation gives about $1 million to local causes each year. We also conduct a number of in-store fundraisers through which our store teams have raised substantial funds for the local chapters of numerous charities, including the American Heart Association, American Red Cross, Children’s Miracle Network, and Special Olympics, among many others. Kinney sponsors numerous local events, sports teams and initiatives within our communities, and we donate many products to local organizations including food, school supplies, toys, pet supplies, water, sunscreen and toiletries. Kinney Drugs is one of the only companies left in our markets that still allows local organizations such as the Scouts to table at our stores, which matters a great deal, especially in our smaller markets.”

“The profession of pharmacy is at a crossroads. As the profession continues to face reimbursement pressure, the profession must evolve. Community pharmacy will move from a place of medication distribution to a destination for health care services. Keeping the patient at the core of our work will enable us to serve them in ways they haven’t been before,” said Marraffa.

He added that in celebrating its official birthday, September 30, the chain held a 120th birthday party in every store, with cake, giveaways and special offers. “Considering all the challenges the profession is facing, I am most proud of our employees’ extraordinary commitment to serving our patients and our communities. Every day, we see our competitors closing pharmacies around us, and our employees continue to show up and give their all. They are owners, and they are acting like it. And in their hearts, they know how crucial access to medications, immunizations and trusted advice is to the generations of people we have served for 120 years,” he concluded


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