Finding Community During a Crisis
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic Michael Scruggs and Bridget Logan opened Front Range Pharmacy in Englewood, CO, a community that previously had almost no community pharmacy presence.
Opening during the pandemic has posed its challenges, but Scruggs has also found that there was some benefit to opening up during a crisis.
“I think the silver lining was that it was sink or swim as far as listening to the community.”
“I think the silver lining was that it was sink or swim as far as listening to the community,” Scruggs said.
Ultimately this meant the original vision for the pharmacy had to change right away to intersect with what the community needed.
“These people need delivery they don’t need the travel clinic that you really want to open,” Scruggs said.
For Scruggs and Logan there couldn’t have been a better way to join the community and say they heard what people want and are there to fulfill those needs.
This was just one of the unexpected ways that Front Range Pharmacy made an impact on its community from the get-go. Patients are still being diagnosed and starting new medications and Front Range has the perfect space to provide social distancing and education for patients at the same time.
Scruggs said they quickly began offering higher touch meetings with new diabetic patients after catching the eye of a provider in the area.
“I didn’t think that I would be a big referral source day one,” Scruggs said.
They also became a great resource on the app Nextdoor, answering questions about how to get a pet cat to take a pill or about a child’s newly developed rash.
Scruggs had initially planned on interacting with his community in a different way, but like in most parts of the country, community events are cancelled, and people are distancing from each other.
Nextdoor has provided a space for patients to share their appreciation of Front Range Pharmacy and for Scruggs and Logan to show they are listening and willing to help their community.
Scruggs has noticed that the Denver area and suburban areas that surround it, like Englewood, are lacking in independent pharmacies. With Front Range Pharmacy he is working to show his community how pharmacy can be different than the big chains.
“I think our community gained a little transparency in a world where there typically isn’t a lot of transparency,” Scruggs said. He added that Front Range also offers professionalism, kindness and efficiency.
Scruggs has also gained a lot from the community. When he first moved to the area with his boyfriend he started working for a chain pharmacy that was being bought out by a big box store and though he wanted to open his own store, he thought it might be better to do it back in South Carolina.
Instead he found a great community that rallied around him when he needed it and invited him into their lives. Many of those same customers he worked with at the chain store are now supporting him at Front Range pharmacy.
“The town shrank and my relationships with friends grew,” Scruggs said.
Scruggs had his first experience with a community pharmacy in 2005, starting at an independent in a small town in South Carolina where he grew up. After starting college, he continued his work in independent pharmacy and became inspired to open his own store after seeing how an owner of an independent could serve and interact with a community.
He attended pharmacy school at University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy in Columbia, an experience he described as empowering.
“I don’t think I could have gone to a better college to learn how to own your own pharmacy and start your own pharmacy,” Scruggs said.
"Pharmacy needs change or pharmacy is going to go away."
In his experience, there are a lot of chain pharmacists who aren’t happy with how things are done and often open an independent pharmacy for that reason.
“I wanted my own store for a very different reason,” Scruggs said. “Pharmacy needs change or pharmacy is going to go away.”
From his perspective, the best way to do that is to start a pharmacy and try to lead community pharmacy in a new direction.
Front Range Pharmacy has changed several times in just the few short months since it opened on April 21, 2020, from contactless curbside pickup to educating patients about their new medications. Scruggs feels strongly about this methodology.
“If you’re not coming from the approach of, ‘I’m starting an independent pharmacy because I am going to change the way that pharmacists get to care for patients, the way they get paid to care for patients and the way patients see pharmacists,’ if you’re not starting your store with that motivation you’re not ready for what’s coming, you’re not ready to own a pharmacy in the year 2020,” Scruggs said.
He has been inspired to go down this path by some of the older pharmacists who have encouraged him to do things differently. And though he may be taking a different approach, some of his challenges are not unique to the pharmacy industry.
“Opening Front Range, it was hard,” Scruggs said. “We wanted more money than most of the banks were willing to give, we wanted to do more things than banks were willing to see as a revenue source.”
When opening they also had to do a lot of work to put the store together. Thankfully their pharmacy tech, Kelsey, was there to help them put together shelves, sand cabinets and much more from day one.
Scruggs and Logan also found help in their community from what they found to be a great group of interconnected business owners who have been brought even closer together by the pandemic.
“They plugged us into everything,” Scruggs said.
Front Range Pharmacy is now involved in an initiative to make their downtown a better place through change.