Four decades of community care

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Hoagland Pharmacy has been a Bellingham fixture since 1981

It would be easy to take our pharmacies for granted, but they are one of the most valued assets of a community. Most people need their services at some point in their lives. We trust them to help us stay healthy, to come through during challenging times and to support us as we age. Locally and independently owned Hoagland Pharmacy has filled this vital role in Bellingham and Whatcom County for more than 40 years. With both a retail pharmacy and a closed-door long-term care pharmacy, Hoagland builds solid relationships with patients and caregivers, provides essential education and empowers its customers to care for themselves and their families. No matter how our needs evolve, Hoagland is poised to provide and care for this community.

40 years of service
Hoagland, a community fixture since 1981, got its start when Bellingham’s population was less than half of what it is today. Dr. Michael Hoagland, a pharmacist who graduated from the University of Washington’s School of Pharmacy, launched his own pharmacy business with his wife, Rosa, after working at the former Fountain Drug for many years.

In 1985, the pharmacy moved to a larger location to gain more space and add employees. Then in 1987, Hoagland and his colleague, Ed Mohs, became certified to offer compounded compounds — custom-made pharmaceutical formulations blended in-house — at first to the local hospice and then eventually to the community at large, including many medical and veterinary specialists.

In January 2000, Hoagland moved to its current location at the corner of Texas and Yew streets in the Roosevelt neighborhood.

In addition to serving retail customers at the pharmacy, Hoagland supports a wide range of assisted living facilities, family group homes and adult family homes via its long-term care pharmacy. Opened in 2004 on Meador Avenue in the Haskell Business Complex, this closed-door pharmacy provides crucial services behind the scenes to our most vulnerable populations.

“We’re delivering meds as far north as Lynden and Blaine and as far south as Everett,” explained Dr. Carson Huntoon, one of the pharmacy’s current co-owners. “We service nursing homes, assisted living, small adult family homes, group homes. We are providing a service to the community in the background that people aren’t even aware of.”
In January 2019, Hoagland was purchased by three of its long-term employees — Huntoon, pharmacist and president, who serves as the long-term care pharmacy manager; Carrie Stephens, company administrative director, secretary and treasurer; and Carl Neal, Hoagland’s vice president.

“With co-owners, we’re able to pool our strengths,” Huntoon said.
Huntoon grew up in the Lake Samish area. “I still live in the same house I was born in,” he said. “This is home.” He graduated from Sehome High School, Western Washington University and then the UW School of Pharmacy. After completing a successful internship in 2005, Huntoon was hired at the Hoagland retail pharmacy in 2007 and then moved to its long-term care pharmacy in 2009. By 2010, he’d become its manager. “Being part of the community and serving the local people is what’s so great about independent pharmacy,” he said.

Stephens moved to the area after leaving a human resources position in Nebraska in 2004, first joining the team as a bookkeeper and then being promoted to office manager and eventually becoming a co-owner. Her strength has been stewarding the company through its many transitions and unexpected challenges over the years. “Mike sold to the three of us because it was important to him for the pharmacy to stay locally owned,” Stephens said. “I’m a lot like Mike in that when I get up in the morning, I’m responsible for 60 people having a job. The decisions that I make, even when they are hard, are about keeping them employed.”

Helping our community through the pandemic and staff shortages
As soon as COVID-19 tests and vaccinations became available in January 2021, Hoagland mobilized its team to provide clinics that service many people efficiently and effectively.
“Hoagland is still doing flu and COVID testing and vaccinations for Whatcom County school districts, the city and some privately owned larger employers,” Stephens said. “We made sure our first responders were vaccinated when they showed up to a call. That was important to us. We worked seven days a week getting people vaccinated. Places like Sehome and Mount Baker high schools, we vaccinated staff so people could get back to in-person learning.”

Stephens is still organizing Hoagland’s clinics around the county for companies with more than 60 employees to give flu shots and COVID boosters to those that are eligible.
“The hardest part now is that COVID is still out there,” Huntoon explained. “Facilities are still having outbreaks. Everyone is having to deal with COVID and finding new staff. We all hear about the staffing shortages, but we’re feeling that, too.”

Hoagland has been hiring constantly, both in the retail and closed-door pharmacy, Huntoon said, including pharmacy assistants and evening part-time delivery service drivers who start at 5:45 p.m. delivering medications and durable medical equipment to long-term care facilities.

“We always try to be competitive with our wages and offer above-average employee benefits,” Stephens said. “Our pharmacy assistants don’t need prior pharmacy training because we offer paid on-the-job training, and if we see potential in someone, we look in-house first when we are looking for pharmacy technicians. We only ask that they commit to working with us for at least a year after their training is complete. Other than at-home study time, they’re getting paid for hands-on training without having to pay tuition at another location, like a community college.”

Retail and closed-door pharmacy services
The retail pharmacy offers a range of products and services, including home health durable medical equipment and diabetic supplies. It also is the home of the compounding pharmacy.

“Compounding allows for patient-specific medications with custom doses and administration routes that are non-standard,” Huntoon said. “Hormone replacement therapy is a big one.”
Hoagland also compounds medications for people’s pets.

“A veterinarian writes a prescription just like your doctor does for you,” Huntoon said. “For example, we formulate antibiotics, and a common one is methimazole, a treatment for overactive thyroid in cats. It might be in a dose that’s not available commercially. We can flavor it with tuna or chicken for easier administration. Or for cats, they get the best absorption through ears, so we make a gel that you can rub into their ears, so you don’t have to get them to swallow a pill.”

Hoagland also offers travel immunizations through the retail pharmacy. For a consult fee of $30 per family, Hoagland will look up Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for wherever you plan to go. “We’ll schedule an appointment, and they can come in and get their vaccinations against yellow fever, hepatitis or whatever is recommended for that area,” Huntoon said. “We’ll even bill your pharmacy insurance for you for the cost of the vaccines. We’ve seen demand for this service start to come back as people begin to travel again since the pandemic.”

The closed-door pharmacy provides a unique essential service that helps customers manage multiple medications with fewer errors and omissions. Hoagland’s medication therapy management services look at a patient’s whole prescription profile and address any concerns, such as negative drug interactions.

“For example, what we call our ‘mediset department’ provides a week’s supply of all the person’s meds — organized for breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime — to try to make it convenient for the patient so they don’t miss medications or make mistakes,” Huntoon said. “We also reach out to prescribers if they need refills. It’s great for parents, loved ones and those on multiple meds. It’s complicated to do it at home, but we take care of all that, so they just have to pick up their mediset, and they don’t run out. Some pick up several weeks’ worth at a time.”

Giving back more than pharmacy services
In addition to supporting the community through the pharmacy, Hoagland matches employee donations to the Pass the Hat nonprofit, which provides financial relief to Whatcom County families that have experienced tragic events.
Hoagland also donates funds to the Bellingham School District Foundation and to sports programs in the Blaine, Mount Baker and Meridian school districts and auctions items and services for fundraisers for local nonprofits such as Brigid Collins and Lydia Place.

Looking to the future
This fall, Hoagland will offer on-site flu testing to take the pressure off area physicians and medical centers. “We started out doing COVID testing, so now, rather than having to make an appointment and see their doctors, customers will be able to come here to get their flu testing,” Stephens said.

In September, the CDC is expected to authorize a new version of the COVID-19 vaccine based on more recent COVID strains, such as the omicron variant BA.5. “COVID changes so rapidly, we’re anticipating that the CDC will make this booster available for a larger demographic than is currently eligible,” Huntoon said.

Hoagland is just beginning to get calls requesting monkeypox vaccines, but Huntoon said that the vaccines are so scarce, they’re not yet available in Whatcom County. “When they become available and there is a need in the community, we will have them,” Stephens said.
Today, with eight pharmacists and more than 60 other employees, Hoagland continues to provide the same quality, personalized pharmaceutical care the company has from the very beginning — and to many of the same customers who have been there since day one. ■