Improved prognosis for local pharmacies

There aren’t too many independent corner pharmacies these days where people can go for their medical and personal care needs. But, amazingly, right here in the Harlem Valley there are two places one can do exactly that: Pine Plains and neighboring Stanfordville.

For as long as most locals can remember, residents have been able to stop by the Pine Plains Pharmacy or McCarthy’s Pharmacy to pick up their prescriptions — not to mention candy, magazines and a wide assortment of other goods and sundries. That practice was jeopardized after a March announcement from the Dutchess Educational Health Insurance Consortium (DEHIC) — a collective of all Dutchess County and some Sullivan and Ulster County school districts.

DEHIC stated that in order to save roughly $2.2 million a year, it was moving its members from filling maintenance medication at a pharmacy of their choice to having their meds filled with Express Scripts, a mail-order pharmacy.

But that savings came at a cost. The fear was that once the school district employees and retirees the two local pharmacies rely on withdrew their business, the pharmacies would fold. There was plenty of cause for concern. According to Pine Plains Pharmacy owner Nasir Mahmood, who has owned the pharmacy for 30 years (he bought it as an existing business), nearly 60 percent of his clientele comes from the Pine Plains Central School District. According to McCarthy’s Ravi Nandigama, who has owned his shop for 14 years (and also bought it as an existing pharmacy), a quarter of his walk-in business is from area school districts.

The Pine Plains Central School District employs 256 people, and provides health care through DEHIC to its full-timers, their dependents and qualified retirees. Word on the street was that the district, en masse, was not happy with DEHIC’s  decision. 

Certainly Mahmood and Nandigama weren’t. They got straight to work, with Mahmood taking the lead. He solicited help from Pine Plains town Supervisor Darrah Cloud, for one, to lodge an all-out campaign to reverse DEHIC’s decision. Calls were made and letters written — to the county executive, to our state senator and assembly member, to the DEHIC president, to Pine Plains Superintendent of Schools Martin Handler — to anyone who would listen and could, hopefully, help.

Well, last week, on Tuesday, June 8, Mahmood signed a contract with Express Scripts to be included in its mail-order pharmacy network. Days later, Nandigama did the same.

What this means is that school district employees — members of DEHIC — can continue to get their maintenance medications locally, just as they have done for years. While not the perfect solution, perhaps, it’s a pretty good one. For all intents and purposes, our local independent pharmacies will be able to keep functioning in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed — though they expect to take a loss. After the contracts expire, said Mahmood, he’s going to request DEHIC reverse its decision permanently and cancel the mandate for filling maintenance medication scripts through mail-order pharmacies only. 

And who knows? Maybe our two local pharmacies will flourish. As Handler noted, employees in other, neighboring school districts reluctant to get their medications through the mail might make the trip into Pine Plains or Stanfordville for some personal service. 

For more, read this week’s story on Page A1.