A wide wooden pathway runs through the middle of the aisle at the Eastern Avenue Rite Aid Pharmacy in Schenectady, also known as the Pathway to Wellness.
U.S. Rep. Paul D. Tonko walked that path Tuesday afternoon to learn more about the critical role pharmacists play in health care.
His visit was a part of an educational campaign by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. His goal was to meet with Rite Aid pharmacists and constituents to learn more about the pharmacists’ role in both health care and communities — especially in the Capital Region.
“The pharmacies are a big part of the health care equation and the wellness equation,” said Tonko, D-Amsterdam.
The Eastern Avenue Rite Aid recently underwent renovations and created a new Wellness Store format. The new format includes more health and wellness products, a consultation room for one-on-one patient-pharmacist consultations, an open floor plan, two wellness ambassadors and free testing and vaccinations.
“The one big thing about the pharmacy is you have a health care provider that you do not need to pay to see,” said Lou Ann Obernesser, pharmacy district manager for Rite Aid. “You can ask them any kind of questions. They are almost always available while the store is open. So it is a free access for people rather than trying to make an appointment to see their doctor.”
With a shortage of health care providers, pharmacists are crucial components of the health care system. Tonko said pharmacies are already seeing a benefit via the
Affordable Care Act, the comprehensive health care reform package also known as Obamacare.
“So there is a lot of emphasis in the Affordable Care Act that strikes to prevention,” Tonko said. “Wellness programs and the fact that they are adjusting and restructuring a lot of their marketing and offerings that lean towards wellness is important.”
Tonko said part of the reason he wanted to visit health care providers was to talk about the Affordable Care Act, clear up confusion and see how the legislation is impacting constituents and pharmacists.
“[Pharmacists] are also sounding boards,” he said. “They can tell us what people are thinking, how they are accepting this. We want to keep that dialogue flowing.”
Obernesser said having Tonko visit the pharmacy meant a lot, and it is important for pharmacists to be heard as health care and legislation affecting it continues to change rapidly.
“He wants to see the value of a community practice pharmacy,” she said. “And of course, we want to talk to him about some of the different things that are going on and some of the different legislative bills so that he can speak on our behalf.”
Tonko said he plans on continuing the dialogue with pharmacies because health care begins in the neighborhoods and with these local pharmacies and pharmacists.
“They are front-liners in health care,” he said. “We can learn from them.”