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Opening a new pharmacy amidst raging wildfires and COVID-19

In anticipation of #WomenPharmacistDay on October 12, we begin the celebration by recognizing the resiliency of women pharmacy owners. Here, we talk with Jennifer Garrison, PharmD and owner of Medicap® Pharmacy, in Albany, Oregon, who was just a few months away from opening her second pharmacy when COVID-19 delayed her plans. Now, many of her pharmacy’s neighboring towns have been forced to evacuate due to raging wildfires. Read on to learn more about Jennifer’s path to pharmacy ownership, and to learn how COVID-19 and the Oregon wildfires have impacted her business.

Tell us about your pharmacy, and you got started as a pharmacy owner.

My parents opened this pharmacy in Albany, Oregon, in the 1990s. I worked here after earning my first college degree in psychology. My parents saw that I really enjoyed working here, and asked me if I’d be interested in eventually buying and running their pharmacy. That’s when I decided to back to school and earned my PharmD. I bought the store from them not long after. I basically learned how to operate a retail pharmacy from watching my parents and their staff pharmacists. 

How are COVID-19 and the current wildfires are impacting your pharmacy?

We have a drive-through for easy prescription pick up; and we offer a prescription delivery service. We saw a big uptick in new patients – and the use of these services – with the onset of COVID-19, because many patients were looking for ways to avoid entering stores.

As for the wildfires – they are raging all around us, and several communities located as little as 45 minutes away have been evacuated. We’re fortunate that our immediate community has experienced no evacuations so far. Our local fairground is set up to serve as an evacuation center, and we contributed some over-the-counter supplies to help them prepare for evacuees. We’ve fielded calls from displaced patients from other communities and give them guidance about how they can get their prescriptions filled if they’re away from home or unable to get in contact with their doctor or their usual pharmacy.

Tell us about your plans to open a second pharmacy.

We are planning to open our second pharmacy just across the river, in North Albany, where I grew up. It’s a smaller community, but it has an urgent care, doctors’ offices, restaurants, a senior living center, a gym and a gas station. It sounds funny, but people in North Albany don’t like to go “over the bridge” to Albany, because that means dealing with commuter traffic. The town used to have a successful pharmacy located inside its grocery store. Ever since that pharmacy closed, patients there have been missing convenient local pharmacy access. I asked Medicine Shoppe International, Inc. to conduct a demographic analysis to confirm what I had been thinking for a while – that North Albany would be a great fit for a second, smaller pharmacy location. The analysis gave us the confirmation we needed.

The onset of COVID-19 delayed our opening plans a bit. Relatively simple things, like getting permits and finding labor to complete the minimal amount of construction that was needed to prepare the space, became more challenging. But we’re back on track and planning to open in January.

What do you enjoy most about owning a pharmacy, and what advice do you have for other female pharmacists considering pharmacy ownership?

My relationships with my patients are hands down my favorite part of owning a pharmacy. And for others considering pharmacy ownership, my advice is to just go for it! Know that there are partners out there, like Medicine Shoppe International, Inc., (MSI) who are great about helping you open a new pharmacy or finding an existing pharmacy for you to buy. In my experience, it’s far easier to purchase an already successful pharmacy than to start from scratch and build a new one. Partners like MSI can make the process easier, so you don’t have to feel like you’re doing it alone