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Doctors Express opens two physician-led urgent care centers in San Diego

BY Antoinette Alexander

SAN DIEGO — The nurse practitioner-staffed retail clinic concept has sparked a revolution in health care, and now even physicians are re-examining the model to find new ways to create value and improve healthcare delivery.
 
According to a recent Sign On San Diego article, San Diego already has a number of urgent care centers that are open into the evening and on weekends for walk-in patients, most of which are run by large medical groups. However, Doctors Express, the only for-profit national urgent care franchise in the country, has opened two offices in San Diego County since November 2010, and is expecting continued growth.
 
Doctors Express, which was founded in Maryland in 2006, requires partnerships between a business manager and physician, who serves as a medical director, typically overseeing several other doctors and medical assistants.
 
Doctors Express CEO Peter Ross told Sign On San Diego that the company has 34 franchises in 18 states, with an additional 40 centers slated to open this year.
 
In addition, some hospitals in that local area have opened “fast-track” units designed to relieve overcrowding in the emergency room.
 
The article noted that the UCSD Health system has opened what it refers to as urgent care centers within ER departments at UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest and Thornton Hospital in La Jolla.

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Rite Aid’s February sales increase

BY Alaric DeArment

CAMP HILL, Pa. — February sales at Rite Aid increased 1% over the prior-year period, while the chain’s front-end and pharmacy same-store sales increased 1.1% and 0.9%, respectively.

Total drug store sales for the five-week period increased 0.1% to about $2.44 billion, Rite Aid reported.

The earnings were below expectations issued by Credit Suisse analyst Edward Kelly in a research note released Monday, which projected a 1.5% to 2% increase in comparable sales for Rite Aid versus consensus of 0.5%. Kelly added that he believed pharmacy comparable sales would see a 1.5% boost, while the chain’s front-end sales would rise 2.5%, thanks to increased traffic from the chain’s loyalty program, Wellness+.

Meanwhile, Rite Aid’s sales for the 13-week fourth quarter, which ended Feb. 26, totaled $6.43 billion, compared with nearly $6.44 billion in fourth quarter 2010, the retail pharmacy chain said Thursday.

Despite the slight decrease in total store sales, same-store sales for the quarter increased 0.9%, and front-end same-store sales increased by 1%, compared with last year. Same-store prescriptions filled increased 0.8%.

Total store sales for the fiscal year were $25.1 billion, a 1.8% decrease from last year’s $25.6 billion. Same-store sales decreased by 0.7%, including a 0.3% decrease in front-end sales and a 0.9% decrease in pharmacy sales. Prescription sales accounted for 67.8% of the total, while third-party prescription sales constituted 96.2% of pharmacy sales.

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Inflation, higher fuel prices to drive 2011 grocer gains

BY Michael Johnsen

CINCINNATI — Kroger on Thursday beat analysts’ quarterly consensus, posting 46 cents in earnings per share (adjusted for a goodwill impairment charge) that exceeded consensus by 2 cents EPS, with a higher-than-expected identical-store sales lift of 3.8% (excluding fuel).

Same-store sales were particularly strong across natural food, bakery and deli/meat, Kroger chairman and CEO David Dillon told analysts during a conference call. “We were particularly pleased by sales growth in our drug and merchandise departments,” Dillon said.

For fiscal year 2011, Kroger anticipated identical-supermarket sales growth, excluding fuel, of approximately 3% to 4%. Full-year net earnings are expected to range from $1.80 to $1.92 per diluted share. Those projects skew conservative, company executives noted, because of the present “fragile” economy.

“Economy recovery continues to be slower … than expected,” Dillon said. “And we expect this to persist.” Rising food prices — the grocer projected 1% inflation — could represent a significant drag on consumer discretionary spending, as could potential summertime gas prices of higher than $4 per gallon.

There’s a silver lining in all of this for grocers, however, Dillon noted. Inflation during a recession period would benefit Kroger’s brand, whether that inflation is restricted to brand offerings or not. However, inflation across certain categories, such as milk and perishables, is not a positive, Dillon said.

And any significant increase in gas prices is a similar boon. “The convenience of having gasoline is actually a big plus,” Dillon noted, pointing to the more than 1,000 fuel depots located across the chain’s supermarket footprint. When gas prices are high, consumers drive shorter distances and consolidate trips.

Dillon suggested Kroger will benefit further by its customer segmentation analyses — upscale consumes currently are more confident and are spending more; lower household-income demographics, however, are still challenged. “We try to address that in what we offer [with] our pricing; what we do in our ads; what we do in our stores,” Dillon said.

Total sales for the quarter ended Jan. 29, including fuel, were up 7.4% to $19.9 billion. Excluding fuel sales, total sales increased 4.2% over the same period last year. Net earnings for the fourth quarter totaled $278.8 million, or 44 cents per diluted share. At the end of the fourth quarter, net total debt was $7.3 billion, a decrease of $243.5 million from a year ago.

On a rolling four-quarters basis, Kroger’s net total debt to EBITDA ratio, adjusted for the impairment charges in fiscal 2010 and 2009, was 1.89, compared with 1.97 during the same period last year.

For fiscal year 2010, total sales increased 7.1% to $82.2 billion. Excluding fuel sales, total sales increased 3.4% over the prior year. Identical-supermarket sales, without fuel, increased 2.8% in fiscal year 2010, compared with the prior fiscal year. Net earnings for fiscal year 2010 were $1.12 billion, or $1.74 per diluted share.

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