MEEKER | The town of Meeker has long enjoyed the convenience of having at least one independent downtown pharmacy since 1904. That era came to an end with the closure of Meeker Drugs last week. The pharmacy name will now be attached to a hospital-owned and operated facility under construction at Pioneers Medical Center (PMC). The hospital-based pharmacy is not expected to open until spring 2022, due to construction delays, contract agreements, and licensing requirements (see the press release from PMC on Page 6A).
A combination of factors—local and industry-wide—came to bear on the closure of Meeker Drugs, a decision third-generation owner Diana Jones describes as “heartbreaking.”
As the general public strives to find prescription medications at affordable costs, the pharmaceutical industry seeks to maintain its profit margins, squeezing pharmacies in the middle. Insurance companies and Medicaid/Medicare rules add hefty amounts of paperwork and put pharmacy owners at risk of fines and audits. Agreements between insurance providers and pharmaceutical companies have insurers encouraging clients to bypass local pharmacies in favor of mail-order options. Medicare Part D plans require pharmacies to navigate a complex system of regulations that differ by private insurer and by individual drugs. The paybacks on many of those medications don’t cover the costs of maintaining a brick-and-mortar store.
According to a 2018 report from the University of Iowa’s Rural Policy Research Institute, from 2003 to 2018, 1,231 of the nation’s 7,624 independent rural pharmacies closed, creating “drugstore deserts” in 630 communities.
Big retail pharmacy chains aren’t immune, either. In the fourth quarter of 2021, Rite Aid announced it would be closing 63 stores nationwide, and CVS plans to shut down 10%—900—of its stores beginning in 2022, citing competition from online options offered by tech giants like Amazon.
Meeker Drugs—originally Meeker Drug—was started in 1962 by Herb and Bea Blagg, in the Main Street location where Prescriptions Salon and Spa now operates. When Herb Blagg’s granddaughter, Jones, bought the pharmacy in 2009 from her father’s wife Linda, she added the “S” to the name. The store relocated to the corner of Sixth and Main in 2013, and Jones has worked to diversify the drugstore’s services ever since in an effort to keep the pharmacy viable.
Jones will continue to operate the coffee/soda/ice cream shop under the name Meeker Sweet Shop, and has added a UPS pickup/dropoff as well as a tuxedo rental service, and plans to remain invested in the local community where she has served as president of the Meeker Chamber board and has been instrumental in establishing the Meeker Skijor competition, which enters its third year in February.
In May 2021, PMC CEO Liz Sellers responded to questions from the HT regarding the hospital’s plans to implement a retail pharmacy that raised concerns about competition between a publicly-funded entity (the Eastern Rio Blanco Health Service District which supports PMC) and a private business.
Sellers’ response, via email, stated, “The hospital has been in discussions around putting in a retail pharmacy for a couple of years. The goal behind the retail pharmacy is not to compete with Meeker Drugs. Rather, the hospital hopes to supplement the services that the local pharmacy is providing by offering prescriptions that they cannot offer. Currently, our residents in the Walbridge Wing have their prescriptions filled outside of the community. Bringing this service back to Meeker is a win for everyone.”
For now, while construction is underway, PMC is working with multiple Rio Blanco County departments and the Rangely Pharmacy at Rangely District Hospital to determine a system for transferring prescriptions for PMC patients and Walbridge Wing residents to Meeker until the new PMC-based pharmacy opens this spring. Once those details are finalized, they’ll be made known to the public.
You can call the RBC Alerts hotline for up-to-date information, as well, at 970-878-7110.
By NIKI TURNER – email@example.com