Village Life, Work

A Tale of Two Pharmacies

Pharmacies play a key role in the big picture of health care. For people with chronic problems requiring regular medications, they’re a vital link. Even for many who have a minor ailment like a cold or temporary pain, pharmacies—and pharmacists—can be the front line of care.
 
Five different pharmacies are available in Coconut Grove, with many more nearby. The CVS pharmacy at 3215 Grand Ave. and the Coconut Grove Pharmacy at 3001 27th Ave. offer uniquely local approaches.
 
“Local” is the operative term. CVS is a mammoth corporation with some 9,000 pharmacy locations across the U.S., but Richard Williams, the pharmacy manager at the Grand Ave. store, has deep roots in the Grove. When Williams was a young child, he and his family lived in an apartment just blocks from the location where he now heads a pharmacy staff of seven. As a pharmacist beginning his career with Kmart after eight years of military service, Williams was the company’s first African-American district manager, overseeing 40 pharmacies from Jacksonville to Key West. When Kmart went bankrupt, he moved to CVS, first in South Miami and, for the last 11 years, Coconut Grove.
 
Jay Lyons is deeply local in a different way. A pharmacist for 47 years, he attended pharmacy school in Boston and eventually returned to his native Florida in 1998. After he worked as a pharmacist for both Walgreens and Walmart, he and his partner, Adriana Vergara, a marketing professional, decided they wanted to own their own pharmacy near their home in Coconut Grove. They took their time looking for the right location and finally decided on a building on 27th Ave. that opened in 2008. That’s where the store has been located since January 2009.   
 
Both pharmacies offer a kind of community connection that’s a key to creating trust among customers for whom medications and health care advice can be a lifeline.
 
“I know everybody on a first-name basis,” Williams says. “That’s the main comment I get from everyone. They say, ‘How do you remember all of our names?’ I tell them it’s a joy to work in the pharmacy and serve the community where I grew up.”
 
It’s a similar story for Lyons. “We have a very regular and loyal clientele,” he says. “We know the grandparents, the parents, and their children.”
 
“People will come in initially to ask for medical advice,” says Williams. “That’s where we get involved in assisting them, maybe to recommend over-the-counter products and also to see if any medications they’re currently taking have any interactions with other medications.” One challenging issue, Williams notes, is that some customers who need health care and medications have no legal papers or insurance. “If I recommend that they go to a health care facility,” he says, “that can be an issue. A lot of our customers are on Medicaid and Medicare, and they’re restricted to certain areas where they can go for health care, which may not be locally in the Grove. So they rely on me and my staff for health care assistance. That’s the basic direction of pharmacy now, offering health care opportunities that before might have been provided by a primary care physician.”
 
Lyons sees his job in the same way, even though his pharmacy offers more upscale merchandise in an intimate setting significantly different from CVS. “A lot of people come in here before they go to a doctor,” he says. “Usually, we can help them with something. But there’s a point where you say, ‘This is an emergency that requires a doctor, and you should go ASAP.’”
 
Williams says many of the most common health problems and symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter medications. They include common cold, cough and flu, mild to moderate fever, digestive problems, minor injuries, cuts and bruises, minor burns, and eye strain or dryness. He and his staff would refer customers to a physician, though, for problems such as severe cuts requiring stitches, conjunctivitis (pink eye), broken bones, high persistent fever, high persistent blood pressure, and chest pains.
 
Lyons specializes in compounding, a relatively new aspect of pharmacy in which the pharmacist, following a doctor’s prescription, creates a pharmaceutical preparation—a drug in the form of a pill, capsule, or gel—for an individual customer when a commercially available drug does not meet the need. 
 
“The pharmacy model in the U.S. is not very community-based,” says Adriana Vergara, Lyons’ partner. She knows from experience, having lived at one point in the Netherlands. “Our goal was to create a business, particularly a pharmacy, that’s welcoming to people.”

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