Hometown Health Centers has an on-site pharmacy again, offering its patients and area residents a low-cost option for getting their medications that was lost when the previous pharmacy pulled out a year ago.
The new pharmacy will put student pharmacists in the forefront of providing advice and medication to patients, under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist. The partnership between Hometown and the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Services is the first of its kind in New York state and one of only a few nationwide.
College Hometown Pharmacy had a soft opening earlier this month and an official ribbon-cutting Wednesday. Throughout the event, Hometown CEO Joe Gambino was beaming when he wasn’t speaking.
“Today makes me happy,” he told the large group of people, many of whom had helped make the unconventional proposal a reality with effort, money or expertise.
“I think it’s a real win-win for the community,” Gambino said afterward.
Hometown Health is a full-service nonprofit provider of medical and dental care at its main Schenectady location and a second site in Amsterdam. It has 110 employees and had about 60,000 patient visits in 2015. In the past five years, its patient roster reached 18,570. Some of them are uninsured or underinsured, and many of them are otherwise underserved by the medical community.
There is no shortage of pharmacies in the Capital Region, and in fact a large Rite Aid stands less than 100 yards from Hometown Health’s 1044 State St. office. Gambino said Hometown wanted to have a pharmacy on-site for convenience and cost — many of the patients don’t have a car and many are in lower income brackets.
The pharmacy can offer medication under the federal 340B program at a discount, often substantial, because it is part of Hometown Health.
The new pharmacy is a nonprofit venture owned and operated by ACPHS in space it rents in Hometown’s lower level. (Because Hometown is federally subsidized, it cannot just give away its space, Gambino explained.)
Dr. Greg Dewey, president of ACPHS, said the pharmacy will be both a learning experience for students and a source of help for patients, a “collaboratory.”
He added: “There is a crisis in primary care in this country. Pharmacists are a great untapped resource.”
He said a second such venture will begin in four months in Albany.
Dewey thanked MVP Healthcare and Rochester Drug Cooperative for support that will help get College Hometown Pharmacy up and running, and cover its losses for up to five years.
Gambino said the pharmacy’s journey to self-sufficiency will depend on volume, its ability to get more Hometown patients and members of the general community — who also can get lower 340B prices — to use the on-site pharmacy.
“You’d like to think most of them would go to [this] pharmacy,” he said. “Each time they don’t, that’s revenue that goes out the window.”
Dewey said another benefit for his students who will rotate through the pharmacy is learning to interact with patients and run a business.
“I call this a venture in social entrepreneurship.”
None of the dozen or so students present Wednesday seemed to be interested in opening their own independent pharmacy, which is an increasingly rare business venture.
Utica-area natives Sonya Kara and Nicole Kelly both said they have been working in St. Luke’s Memorial in Utica and like the hospital setting.
Odiri Duru, a Californian, said she is looking for an ambulatory care setting when she graduates.
But each is happy to be part of the new pharmacy in Schenectady.
“We’re all excited,” Duru said. “It should be a good opportunity to get real-life experience.”
Rochester-area native Ben Baker, another student who has no aspiration toward running an independent pharmacy, said the lessons in business should be useful wherever the students go in their professional careers.
“There’s a lot of skills you learn in any pharmacy,” he said, “but in a small independent pharmacy like this, you definitely learn more about the business side, things like purchasing and receiving, you really look at those figures.”
Another important part of the pharmacy industry is building customer loyalty and dealing with insurers, Baker said, and the students will need those skills in almost any setting.
Reach business editor John Cropley at 395-3104, [email protected] or @cropjohn on Twitter.