Clay County, in Southwest Georgia, has about 3,000 residents, one doctor and one pharmacy. On Sept. 12, that pharmacy is set to close, which is a real setback for medical access in the community.
Buy-Rite Drugs’ Fort Gaines location, which has one full-time pharmacist, has been struggling for years to make the numbers work. “We just got to the point now where we can’t afford to stay in business with the amount of money we’re losing,” said Ron Pickens, the company’s pharmacy district manager. “That’s an issue in the world of pharmacy.” He said it has a lot to do with reimbursement rates from insurance companies.
“It is especially tough for an independent pharmacy when a lot of times our reimbursement rate seems to be a whole lot different than what some of the big box stores are being reimbursed,” he said. “It’s not a decision in Fort Gaines that we took lightly. We’ve been going over this for the past four or five years, and it’s a problem that we fight in all of our stores.”
Dr. Karen Kinsell is the county’s one practicing doctor. She called the news “devastating on many levels.”
“If you go and you diagnose someone, if you’re not able to treat them, and treat them usually is medications, you can’t take care of people,” she said.
Buy-Rite plans to offer medicine delivery from its Eufaula, Ala. store, but Kinsell said that still won’t help with urgent needs. “If people need antibiotics, or an urgent medicine, [if] they just took sick, I mean, what are they supposed to do? It’s 20 miles to the next nearest pharmacy in Georgia,” she said. At her clinic, she said she plans to have more emergency supplies available.
“We talk so much about the rural healthcare crisis being a shortage of doctors,” she said. “The real crisis is a shortage of money. There is no money to pay to provide healthcare services.”
Independent pharmacies like Buy-Rite “can’t compete on price” with larger chains, she said. “They compete on providing a lifesaving, very necessary service to the community and in a small area it just doesn’t compute.”
The issue goes beyond just access to medicine, said Andy Miller, editor of Georgia Health News, who has covered the community. “Pharmacies don’t just dispense medication. I mean they do a lot of education and counseling with patients. They do blood pressure monitoring, glucose monitoring, immunization, and they can guide a patient to the right over-the-counter medication as well. They’re vital links in a community that has scarce medical resources.”
Miller said this is a story he hasn’t heard in his two decades of healthcare reporting experience. “This is rare. There’s only a small handful of counties in Georgia that lack a pharmacy or a drugstore.”
“We know some people at best are just going to be seriously inconvenienced by this, and others are just going to have to go without medicines,” Kinsell said.