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'We need pharmacies to keep communities safe': Local drug stores vanishing across Washington

Amid the strain, some local pharmacists are now bailing others out of a bad spot.

SEATTLE — Pharmacies in Washington are struggling: Northwest Prescriptions and Medical Supply recently closed, and so did Darrington Pharmacy in July. 

Meanwhile, the city of Seattle is preparing to lose its last 24-hour pharmacy on Sept. 10, when Bartell Drugs closes its doors in the Uptown neighborhood. 

It's an alarming trend, but where does it leave people who want to speak to a pharmacist in person? Typically some will turn to locally run, independent pharmacies, but those are vanishing in Washington too--  and it's a tough pill to swallow for customers who depend on them.

"It's one of those things where, if I need something, I can drop down here," said one man swinging by his local pharmacy in Madison Park on Tuesday. "I think you have some confidence. It's not some person you've just never met before."

According to Dr. Jenny Arnold, CEO of the Washington State Association of Pharmacists, the trend of contracts by an unregulated middleman is what is putting pharmacies out of business.

"When Bartell's isn't even big enough to compete and when Rite Aid is in financial trouble because of these pharmacy benefit manager contracts," she said. "They are negotiating contracts that make patients go to certain pharmacies and not others."

She is calling on patients to reach out to federal and state representatives to ask for laws on the books that would regulate pharmacy benefit managers.

"Mail-order pharmacies aren't giving vaccines, they aren't doing important testing. We need pharmacies to keep communities safe," Arnold said.

Meantime, amid the strain, some local pharmacists are now bailing others out of a bad spot. 

When Walgreens bought Medly Pharmacy out of bankruptcy in February, it shuttered dozens of pharmacies across the country.

"Effectively, putting Pharmaca/Medly out of business," said Laura Sorensen, who has worked in pharmacy for about 12 years. "Pretty brutal."

That included four pharmacies in Seattle; one of those was in Madison Park.

"Everybody was let go on two-days-notice," said Matt Binder, a local pharmacy owner.

It impacted the community to a great degree, according to Sorensen, as it lost its only pharmacy. The nearest one is in Capitol Hill, she said.

"This is a pharmacy desert without a pharmacy here," said Binder.

Longtime loyal customers reacted strongly.

"What was your reaction?" KING 5 asked one man.

"Sort of, panic," he said.

Binder, who also owns Ostrom's Drug and Gift in Kenmore and Bob Johnson's Pharmacy in Seattle, came to the rescue. When the Madison Park store called, he answered.

He and his business partner reopened the store as an independent pharmacy in May under the name Madison Park Pharmacy and Wellness Center.

He said they rehired 10 employees and welcomed back desperate customers.

"When you have one like this, you sort of want to keep it," said the man.

How can the community help save pharmacies? Arnold is hoping patients will contact the Washington State Pharmacy Association to get involved with advocating.

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