SCHENECTADY — After nearly two years of planning and renovation, Ellis Hospital has opened its new pharmacy, moving it into prominent view and opening it to the general public.
The new facility occupies what was formerly office space and sits right across the lobby from the gift shop and waiting room.
It will be open 12 hours every weekday and, in what is apparently the first installation of its kind in the region, offers an automated dispenser — an ATM-type machine that dispenses prescriptions and over-the-counter medications to patients with proper ID.
The pharmacy had a soft opening on Sept. 19 and will formally cut the ribbon Tuesday. It replaces a facility that was deeper within the hospital and was available only to patients and staff.
“This one is expanded to the patients and the public,” said pharmacy manager Mike Darbyshire.
The value of having a pharmacy on-site, accessible and in plain view, is that patients can more easily get the medications they need, be more likely to do so, and be instructed on the proper dosages and the importance of taking them, he said. Also, the practitioners who wrote the prescriptions are right in the building, should there be any question or problem.
The goal is better health outcomes and lower re-admission rates for patients after they are discharged from the hospital, Darbyshire said.
Along with increased access, the pharmacy will expand immunization services and offer counseling on medication management, about everything from cost to dosage. Too often, patients will think that because they feel better, they can discontinue their medications. So counseling can be an important part of the process of returning patients to health, Darbyshire said. It makes a big enough difference where health insurers often cover the cost.
“Many insurance companies will pay us to sit down with their members,” he said.
In these ways, the new pharmacy serves as more than a source of medication, Darbyshire said.
“I think it was exciting to go through this process knowing the public was going to benefit,” he said.
And it was a fairly long process, pharmacy director Michael Pasquarella said: nearly two years from conception to ribbon-cutting.
“We had to start from scratch,” he said. There’s a different set of state licensing requirements and regulations for pharmacies that serve only internal populations, such as patients and staff, than for those that serve the general public as well. As Ellis navigated that process, it had to find the right place to put the pharmacy it wanted to create.
“Real estate is at a premium,” Pasquarella said of the Nott Street facility.
Patient service and patient experience personnel were relocated within the hospital to accommodate the move, freeing up the lobby space.
Ellis expects to fill 1,000 to 1,200 prescriptions a week from the new pharmacy, up from 600 to 900 at the old one. It is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 9-5 on weekends.
A new machine in the corridor outside the pharmacy will continue the pharmacy’s service even when the pharmacy is closed.
The ScriptCenter, a kiosk installed with financial help from MVP HealthCare, contains prescriptions filled earlier by pharmacy staff. The patient enters his or her information, selects the filled prescriptions waiting in the machine, swipes a credit card and then either enters a code or scans a thumbprint.
The machine then dispenses the medication.
If the patient doesn’t retrieve the meds in a timely fashion, they’re whisked out of reach.
Non-prescription items such as antacids and over-the-counter painkillers are available through the same process, without all the safety and security measures.
The ScriptCenter is being used by Ellis employees only during an extended period of testing. Pasquarella said the hope is to expand its availability to the general public.
Jim Hopsicker, MVP’s vice president of pharmacy, said the new machine is a way to serve patients in an era when fewer pharmacies are open 24 hours a day.
“It’ll improve access and hopefully make it easier for folks to get some of their medications in a secure way, if the pharmacy is closed,” he said. “It’s a nice system.”