Board hears report on pharmacies

Published 10:42 pm Thursday, February 13, 2014

Suffolk Public Schools could be considering establishing pharmacies for employees, retirees and dependents, after officials from Chesapeake Public Schools presented to a School Board workshop Thursday on that district’s foray into the cost-saving concept.

The presentation from the Chesapeake school district’s James Ward, director of financial services and risk management, and Leslie Darden, wellness coordinator, told how two pharmacies established early last year offer cost savings and help keep staff healthy.

Both “Wellness Centers” are located in shopping centers. The first one opened in April 2013, and the second the following month, Ward said.

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Drugs — prescriptions as well as over-the-counter — and other health supplies, such as toothbrushes, are purchased directly from a wholesaler through a contracted vendor, he said, and the savings are passed on.

“We are buying our drugs cheaper than if we were having to buy them at a retail facility,” Ward said.

The program costs the district $8.25 per covered employee per month, he said. An individual with ongoing drug prescriptions, treating things like high blood pressure and depression, saves $65 per month or $780 per year, he said in one example.

With 11,400 on the district’s health plan, 2,600 members have been filling prescriptions at the pharmacies each month, Ward said. In December, he said, 64 percent of the district’s prescriptions were filled at one of the two locations.

Calculating expenses and drug cost savings, he said, the program had generated a net return of $2.59 million through December.

The pharmacies don’t sell the soda, coffee and other non-health items that retail pharmacies do, Ward said. But they do offer free health advice and monitoring, he added, such as blood-pressure checks.

Darden said the pharmacies are part of the district’s wider Heartbeats health program, adding that enrollment in the district’s diabetes management program increased from 124 to 246 since the centers opened.

“We attribute this to the fact that the pharmacies are there and they have that face-to-face communication and consultation,” she said.

Ward said the Chesapeake school district began exploring the idea in 2008, and selected company On-Site RX to run the centers after inviting bids.

The pair spoke at the request of Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Deran Whitney, Ward said. Suffolk School Board members quizzed them over how receptive the Chesapeake district’s employees have been, the potential for legal issues, financial aspects and other things.

Enoch Copeland asked whether the resulting savings could give the city an excuse to withhold funding.

“I don’t think it’s something they will try to take away from us,” Ward replied.

There was also mention of cooperation between the two districts if Suffolk officials choose to pursue the idea; the locations of the Chesapeake district’s two pharmacies do not serve folks in Western Branch, Ward said.