Ike puts retailers to the test—again

BY Jim Frederick

HOUSTON This time, it was Texas that bore the full brunt of Mother Nature’s power. And retail pharmacy operators are scrambling to get their own stores back into operation while they simultaneously try to do their part to hold together a frayed healthcare safety net for millions of Texas residents and evacuees besieged and scattered by the latest weather disaster to stagger the coastal United States.

Hurricane Ike slammed into the Gulf coast of Texas with a fury that caught most residents by surprise, with Galveston largely under water and that city’s mayor estimating that 80 percent of the city’s buildings sustained moderate to severe damage from Ike. Fifty miles inland and directly in the path of the storm, Houston suffered considerable wind damage to downtown skyscrapers, widespread flooding and a power blackout that still has most metro residents in the dark.

Cristina Block, a spokeswoman for San Antonio-based food and drug store powerhouse H-E-B who is based in the company’s Houston district office, said the nation’s fourth-largest city was hit hard. Of the 2.2 million residents on the Houston-area power grid, she said, only 500,000, or fewer than one in four, have had their power restored.

“It’s so weird for whole communities to be without power, and to drive through after it’s dark,” Block told Drug Store News.

With sustained winds of 110 mph at the time it made landfall over Galveston, Ike waged a relentless assault on both the densely packed urban and suburban areas of South Texas, and on the retail and health care infrastructure that serves it. As of Monday, hundreds of drug store, supermarket and mass merchant pharmacies remain closed and without power, although retail operators have responded quickly to get emergency supplies and pharmacy services to scattered residents and to coordinate relief efforts with local agencies.

Locally based H-E-B was among the first to respond. “We are working together with FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency], the Red Cross and other groups to get ice and water into neighborhoods … through eight points of distribution in the greater Houston area. That’s really the top priority now,” said Block. The chain has also set up an H-E-B pharmacy and check-cashing center at a disaster relief center northeast of Galveston, and is helping provide meals to “first responder” disaster relief workers through a mobile kitchen at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. An H-E-B pharmacist has also appeared on local television to advise residents about how to get medicines and other assistance in the wake of the storm.

“Because H-E-B is all over Texas, we had over 200 [employees] coming in to help us clean the stores and get them back open,” said Block. “So 49 out of 67 stores in the Houston division are now up and running.”

Other chains with a major presence in Texas also moved quickly. As of Sunday, for instance, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club had reopened 67 of the 177 stores closed in preparation of or as a result of Ike’s landfall and the storm’s movement across the United States, the company reported. “This leaves 80 Wal-Mart stores, Sam’s Club locations and company distribution centers that are currently closed in Texas, with an additional 30 spread throughout Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana and Kentucky,” Wal-Mart noted.

Four more Wal-Mart units were due for reopening today. And although 79 of its stores “are known to be without power,” the company reported, “at this point, we have not had any reports of significant damage to any of our facilities. In most instances, damages have been limited to roof damage, leaks or broken skylights.

“Our goal is to reopen our stores and clubs as quickly as possible … and that we have associates available to serve our customers well.”

Working with local law enforcement and emergency management agencies, Wal-Mart’s Emergency Operations Center is up and running, which “allows Wal-Mart to better coordinate its business objectives, while at the same time better understand needs where we can be of assistance.” Along those lines, the company committed three truckloads of relief supplies to Texas, and its Pharmacy division is dispensing prescriptions to storm evacuees at 16 shelters in the Dallas metroplex and another in Monroe, La.

“The majority of our efforts … are product donations, such as water, food, and hygiene products,” Wal-Mart noted. “The Salvation Army and the American Red Cross are Wal-Mart’s strategic partners for disaster relief and are integrated into the company’s disaster response system including on-site presence at our Emergency Operations Center.”

Wal-Mart says it’s also mindful of its own employees’ needs, and is providing disaster pay for workers whose stores are closed and a toll-free number to answer their questions, at 800-236-2875.

CVS Caremark spokesman Mike DeAngelis said the drug store giant has reopened more than 110 stores in the hurricane impact area—approximately 25 percent of  which are on generator power—and is still assessing damage. To help bring some relief to those residents impacted by Ike, the company is holding a water and ice giveaway today in its store parking lot for residents of Beaumont, Texas.

Meanwhile, the CVS Caremark Charitable Trust is donating $250,000 to the American Red Cross National Disaster Relief Fund to support the organization’s on-going relief efforts, including their current efforts in the aftermath of Ike and Gustav.

Also helping spearhead relief efforts are such other drug store operators as Walgreens and Rite Aid and such supermarket chains as Brookshire and Winn-Dixie.

“As of late this afternoon, we are up to 102 stores open on either full power or generator power, from 230 stores that were originally closed due to Hurricane Ike,” said Walgreens spokesperson Tiffani Bruce Monday afternoon. “We are still assessing damage in the stores.

Obviously, we’ll have several stores that will have flood damage or other damage to the roof,” she added. “I understand there was also damage to a few drive-throughs.”

Winn-Dixie is implementing its “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” program in all of its 521 stores as a way to assist the American Red Cross, and Texas-based Brookshire Grocery Co. is helping serve evacuees with medicines, supplies and help connecting patients with an emergency preparedness database through its pharmacy records.

“We’ve been pretty blessed,” said Jim Cousineau, Brookshire’s vice president of pharmacy operations. “The storm passed right over us, and short of some power issues, we’ve fared pretty well. As of this morning, we have all stores back up and running.”

Cousineau said the local emergency response system is working more efficiently than it did following Hurricane Katrina three years ago, even with “a very significant number of evacuees from the Houston area.”


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Retail clinic care professionals can help patients avoid sports injuries

BY Antoinette Alexander

BETHESDA, Md. The 2008-2009 football season is gearing up so those working within retail-based health clinics should not only watch for more sports injuries but also help patients protect themselves by offering preventative tips.

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, both professional and amateur athletes are at an extremely high risk for injuring their lower limbs during play.

“Stress fractures of the foot, ankle sprains and ligament injuries are all, unfortunately, quite common in popular fall sports such as football,” stated David Davidson, APMA member and podiatric medical consultant for the Buffalo Bills of the NFL. “From maintaining proper conditioning to wearing sport-specific footwear, athletes can function at peak performance much more often when constantly maintaining high levels of foot care safety.”

Tips to help avoid sprains, fractures and turf toe include:

  • To help avoid sprains take part in proper warm-up exercises before and after home workouts, practice and games. Spend five to 10 minutes stretching, holding and relaxing muscles.
  • To help avoid fractures look for sport-specific footwear that contains extra padding in cleated shoes, which helps to prevent stress fractures—incomplete fractures in bones are typically caused by overuse.
  • To help avoid turf toe wear a stiffer shoe so prevent aggravating the injury further. Customized foot orthotics may also be worn during play to protect against turf toe.


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Teen smokers reject nicotine nasal spray

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK A study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that teenagers are not more likely to quit smoking if they use nicotine nasal spray.

Teenagers using the spray, which usually works in adults, complained of side effects such as burning in the nostrils, foul smells and others and stopped using it altogether or didn’t use it often enough.

Other treatments often didn’t work either. Nicotine patches, for example, gave doses too large, leading to jumpiness and nightmares, but doses still didn’t relieve nicotine cravings.

The study involved 40 teenagers aged 15 to 18 who smoked at least five cigarettes a day over the previous six months. The teenagers were divided into groups who received eight weeks of counseling, six weeks of the spray or a combination of the two treatments. The researchers found no difference between the groups that received the counseling only and the counseling plus the spray. Among those who received the spray only, 57 percent stopped after a week.


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