Pharmacy U

Top stories from 2020: Opening a new pharmacy during a global pandemic. What could go wrong?


by James Morrison Bsc.Phm.

Photo credit: Binh Nguyen



When I first met pharmacy owners, Minh Nguyen and Phong Do, I never imagined that they would be opening their pharmacy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic or that the pharmacy would be such a success during these challenging times.


My role with Wholehealth Pharmacy Partners is to provide operational support to pharmacy owners throughout their opening process and continue once they are up and running. I began working with Minh and Phong in late 2019 as they began preparing to open First Ave Pharmacy in St. Thomas, Ontario. They were well-prepared for a smooth opening process and then COVID-19 arrived in Ontario. I recently met with Minh and Phong to discuss how they persevered at successfully opening their pharmacy during a global pandemic.


The First Ave Pharmacy premises was under construction when the pandemic struck. Suddenly, tradespeople who had committed to the pharmacy setup were no longer available due to self-isolation and the stay of non-essential work. There were challenges with getting some electrical work done and at one point the signage company was operating at limited capacity and nobody was available to install the pharmacy’s sign, so they nearly had to open without a sign overhead.


On top of the construction challenges, Minh and Phong had to pivot entirely on their community engagement plans to introduce the new pharmacy as in-person events were no longer possible due to physical distancing measures. The pharmacy quickly became proficient at telling their story via social media channels including Facebook and Instagram. The pharmacy advertised through their Facebook page and engaged with local community groups online. There was a lot of interest in the pharmacy when they shared online essential products including masks, alcohol, and peroxide as available to purchase. A Facebook post that shared how the two owners met at University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy, and subsequently fell in love and got married also resonated strongly with the community.


Early in the pandemic it became advantageous to be operating a smaller scale pharmacy as patients became hesitant to line up for pharmacies within big box retailers, of which there are many in the town of St. Thomas. The pharmacy offered curbside pickup and delivery to support physical distancing.


The pharmacy engaged with prescribers virtually to collaborate on services. A local physician “liked” the pharmacy’s Facebook page and invited Minh to participate in regular virtual meetings. The pharmacy then registered with PrescribeIT to increase their virtual communication with surrounding prescribers.


Minh and Phong found that certain housebound patients were not seeing their physicians personally as clinics were closed. They posted on social media that at-home medication reviews were available and could be conducted in the patient’s garden or front porch to promote physical distancing. Patients began reaching out requesting the service. Minh shared with me the story of a particularly impactful at-home medication review. A senior patient, who had not seen his physician or had his blood pressure checked since before the pandemic, reported dizziness and feeling unwell. Upon reviewing the patient’s medication, Minh found that he was taking two different angiotensin receptor blockers and was hypotensive. The patient greatly appreciated Minh’s visit to his garden and that she solved his drug therapy problem.


In speaking with these new owners, they expressed their gratitude to Wholehealth and satisfaction in choosing us as their independent pharmacy banner. They appreciate everything the Wholehealth team has done to support their business in preparation to open and helping them work through the pandemic. They have confidence that the business will be able to survive the pandemic because the Wholehealth team always has their back. In particular, the banner helped them to source PPE and other essential products and answered all questions that they had promptly. The pharmacy also made good use of various clinical and operational resources provided throughout the pandemic.


The pharmacy was met with some significant obstacles while opening during such a tumultuous time, but I continue to remain impressed with how Minh and Phong circumvented every barrier laid before them. Although the business has been open for just three months now, they already have made a significant impact on the health of the St. Thomas community and their patient base continues to grow.


James Morrison is the Director of Pharmacy Excellence with Wholehealth Pharmacy Partners