Healthy customers and associates key to Kroger stores.
Editor’s note: This is part of a series of articles on how retailers are responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
When I entered the pharmacy profession, I took an oath to “devote my professional life to the service of all humankind.” Each and every day of my career, for the last 25 years, I’ve gone to work with that promise in mind and at heart.
That oath has never been more important than it is today.
As you all know, we are in the midst of the greatest health crisis of the last century. COVID-19 is an indiscriminate foe that crosses all cultures and knows no borders. It’s a challenge that can only be faced together, with great partnership and even greater resolve. As the health care arm of Kroger Co., our Kroger Health team has passionately stepped up when and where we need them most.
We are so grateful for our 22,000 health care professionals who’ve committed to battle on the front lines of this crisis, serving Americans in our nearly 3,000 pharmacies and 220 clinics across 35 states. We are a multidisciplinary team of pharmacists, nurse practitioners, dietitians and technicians combining our clinical expertise with a shared passion for serving our customers. Together, we are rising 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.
Over the last few short weeks, we’ve taken many steps to help Americans combat and contend with this pandemic, including:
• We’ve 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.
• We’ve shifted many of our clinics to telehealth, enabling patients to consult with our nurse practitioners from their own homes.
• We’ve optimized curbside pickup to enable touchless prescription services, as well as waived pickup and delivery fees until further notice.
• We’ve rearranged seating in our waiting areas and updated our vaccine protocols to protect patients, pharmacists and clinicians.
• We’ve instituted special hours for seniors to shop before opening our doors to the rest of the public.
• We’re ensuring carts are sanitized at every location and after every use, and we have enhanced all our sanitation practices in every department, throughout every store.
And, importantly, we are helping lead the rollout of COVID-19 drive-through testing locations across the country, in partnership with local, state and federal leaders, including two sites opened recently in Kentucky and Tennessee. Our health care professionals are using self-administered testing kits and updated protocols, which increases safety and minimizes the need for PPE. Patients stay in their cars and tests are completed in a few minutes. We are committed to this effort and are working to open more testing locations soon.
We’ve also put many measures and initiatives in place to even better support our associates who are heroically working to serve our customers each day. Ensuring our associates are supported and healthy ensures our customers are supported and healthy. Here are some of the ways we’re doing this:
• We have provided hero bonuses — $300 for full-time associates and $150 for part-time associates — for all frontline grocery, supply chain, manufacturing, pharmacy and call center associates, as well as instituted a $2 premium above the standard base rate of pay, applied to hours worked March 29 through April 18
• We’ve taken several additional actions to support associates during this extraordinary time, including ensuring associates who are affected by COVID-19 — whether experiencing symptoms and self-isolating, diagnosed or placed in quarantine –—can recover with the support of emergency paid leave. We’re also making $5 million available for those facing hardship, including lack of access to child care and for those considered higher risk due to COVID-19, through the Kroger Family of Companies Helping Hands fund.
• We have installed plexiglass partitions at all our check lanes and pharmacies, and placed decals six feet apart to encourage appropriate spacing between customers waiting to check out or get their prescription.
• We’re also supporting associates by onboarding more than 30,600 new hires in the last two weeks, including workers from the hardest-hit sectors like restaurants, hotels and food service distributors.
In addition to the aforementioned efforts, our Kroger enterprise team has formed a multifunctional Coronavirus Task Force that meets twice daily to stay atop the latest information and provide the most educated guidance to our associates, partners and customers. This Task Force includes Kroger Health’s chief medical officer, Dr. Marc Watkins, who has been a great resource for our teams as we’ve navigated this crisis.
“This situation is fluid, so we are constantly updating and optimizing our preparedness and response plan,” said Watkins. “We are on CDC conference calls multiple times per week, as well as working with state and local health departments to help keep our customers, our associates and the general public safe.”
At Kroger Health, our vision is to help people live healthier lives. And our imperative is to change the way health care is delivered in this country through our unmatched position at the intersection of food and medicine. We are working to ensure that everyone has access to affordable, fresh food and other essentials, as well as convenient, trustworthy and high-quality prescriptions and clinical care. Thanks to the outstanding and selfless work by our teams across the nation, I’ve never been more confident that, together, we will make it happen.
Colleen Lindholz is president of Kroger Health.