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PHARMACEUTICAL COUPLE: Don and Melody Savley continue to invest in Alps Pharmacy, including $400,000 for equipment to sort and package patient pills.
SBJ photo by Wes Hamilton
PHARMACEUTICAL COUPLE: Don and Melody Savley continue to invest in Alps Pharmacy, including $400,000 for equipment to sort and package patient pills.

Business Spotlight: The Right Script

A grocer exec and pharmacist go all in on prescription drug business

Posted online

Alps Pharmacy is what happens when a grocer executive mixes with a veteran pharmacist.

It was born in 2004 when Don and Melody Savley connected to build a grocery store with a pharmacy as a central piece on the north side of Springfield.

A few years in, the prescription drug component won out as the Savleys sold the store on Kearney Street but continued to run the pharmacy. In the last two years, the couple have added a second retail pharmacy, inside Ozarks Community Hospital, and two specialty pharmacies to serve long-term care patients as well as complex and costly chronic conditions.

“Long-term care and a specialty were strategic to take care of more of the population in that life cycle,” Don says, to which Melody adds: “We don’t like being told we can’t do everything in our power to help our patients.”

With the new services, Alps Pharmacy’s annual revenue last year grew by a third to reach $23 million, the Savleys say.

The retail pharmacies are both in-store locations – the original at 2650 W. Kearney St. in a Cash Saver store and at OCH, 2828 N. National Ave., which opened in early 2016. The other two are not open to the public but work direct with doctor’s offices and assisted living facilities.

“We’ve developed a highly successful pharmacy without being on the highly popular south end of town,” Melody says.

In the mix
Don had worked in the food business since the 1970s – first for an independent, regional grocery chain in Nashville, Tennessee, and later in director roles for Associated Wholesale Grocers Inc. Before starting Alps Pharmacy, he had a six-year stint as chief operating officer for Ramey/Price Cutter supermarkets.

“That’s where I met him,” Melody says.

In her 38 years in the prescription drug business, Melody’s worked as Price Cutter’s director of pharmacy and for Safeway stores in Kansas City and Smitty’s in town.

The Savleys weren’t married at the time of opening the Alps Market & Pharmacy. That was in February 2004.

“We got married that New Year’s Eve,” Melody says. “I guess we had a lot of trust with each other.”

The Savleys’ Nixa-based outfit now is under the parent company of Food Merchants LLC.

The size and scope of the business is not evident from the retail components.

Lindsey Huffman, the administrator for Season’s Hospice Inc., says the caregiving company recently signed on with Alps’ long-term care pharmacy.

“I didn’t realize the work they were doing before we started a relationship,” Huffman says. “We had known several of the local pharmacies. The one we hadn’t had much interaction was Alps.”

Season’s Hospice was contracted over a decade with Omnicare Pharmacy for medication services to its in-home patients. Since CVS Health acquired Omnicare in 2015, Huffman says Season’s Hospice was researching a change to a local provider.

She says the hospice company has saved 10 percent in the first two months working with Alps. The Savleys’ company works with physicians’ orders, fills the meds and has associates on call to deliver them.

“We’re 24/7 and so we have to partner with a pharmacy that can also provide 24/7 care,” Huffman says. “I was impressed with Don and Melody’s vision of what a relationship could be between a hospice provider and a pharmacist.”

Medical investments
Daniel Greene is the pharmacist in charge of Alps’ long-term care pharmacy.

“It’s been open for a year, and it’s growing,” Don says. “It’s highly automated.”

In getting the LTC pharmacy up and running, the Savleys invested $400,000 in a key piece of equipment to sort and package patient pills.

Huffman says Alps’ multidose vitamin packs lower the risks of medication errors for Season’s Hospice staff.

“It’s one less thing that a caregiver has to do for someone. It takes a lot of the stress out,” Huffman says. “Medications are usually one of the big stressors.”

The Savleys also have invested in accreditations for their pharmacies – one is a $70,000 fee.

The specialty pharmacy, for instance, is accredited through April 2021 by the Utilization Review Accreditation Commission.

Pharmacy staff is held to industry standards in dealing with complex and expensive drugs for chronic diseases, such as hepatitis, Crohn’s and AIDS.

The hepatitis treatment, for instance, is $30,000 a month for three months.

“It cures them,” Melody says. “It’s 12-week therapy. But you cannot miss one dose – not one day.”

Insurance companies don’t just shell out $90,000 for the meds, she says. They require bloodwork and detailed paperwork that Alps’ staff may complete.

One thing all pharmacies have faced is reimbursement pressure for medicines covered by federal programs.

“Our revenues have not gone down, but we have been hurt by lower reimbursements,” Melody says. “We’re having to fill more prescriptions to make less money. Our margins have gone way down.”

She says the national average reimbursement rate is 18-19 percent by Medicare and Medicaid. Sometimes, she says, that means reimbursements are below the pharmacy’s costs.

“Our margins are down about half of what they were,” Don says. “In many cases, it takes it to zero.”

To this end, Melody has a voice as current president of the Missouri Pharmacy Association. She’s celebrating the recent passage of Missouri Senate Bill 826 that reverses some of the powers of pharmacy benefit managers hired by insurance companies. The Savleys say the move could stabilize the future of pharmacies like Alps.

“We’re reinvesting and growing and adapting our model as we go,” Don says.

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