Matt Pivec, PharmD and Andrew Russell, PharmD graduated from Concordia University's first School of Pharmacy class. Now, nearly a decade after starting their formal pharmacy training, they are using their expertise and skill to serve a community through a family pharmacy.
Elko New Market Family Pharmacy serves its community
Concordia School of Pharmacy graduates Matt Pivec, PharmD, and Andrew Russell, PharmD, take the time to answer their patients’ questions. They view their patients and customers more like family members instead of clients. They are ready to serve the community. Pivec and Russell opened their own pharmacy, Elko New Market Family Pharmacy, in July 2020.
Recently, they have been working hard to assist the state of Minnesota with the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out in Elko New Market and its surrounding communities.
How the idea of a community pharmacy started
It’s been nearly a decade since they began their pharmacy training at Concordia University Wisconsin. Pivec and Russell met in their first year.
They met through pharmacy school and both had a student job working as grounds crew in the morning. “We both needed a job and we’d show up on campus at 4 or 5 in the morning and went around fixing things, picking up garbage, doing maintenance-type things.” said Russell, “It got us up in the morning and ready for the day with a paycheck.”
This was just the beginning of a career of dedication and service to those around them. A year after they were working as groundskeepers, both Pivec and Russell shifted into working in local pharmacies. Pharmacists are hard working. Pivec and Russell both displayed their servant leader character and entrepreneurial spirit early in their training.
Pharmacists as entrepreneurs
Pivec had always wanted to own his own pharmacy. Russell on the other hand didn’t think about it until he took a class on entrepreneurship with Dan Sem. The idea was there, but Pivec and Russell had other career goals for the first few years out of pharmacy school. Years down the road, with experience, families, and a thirst for serving patients in a more hands-on approach, the two began revitalized the idea of owning their own pharmacy.
“I went out to visit Matt in Minnesota, and he pitched me the idea,” said Russell, “The more we started looking into it, the more it started to make sense. We did a whole business plan and a market analysis. Matt lived in the Elko New Market area and knew it would be a great community to work in.” After the two committed to the plan and found a store to renovate into a pharmacy, Russell moved his family from Wisconsin to Minnesota to start their new business.
“I loved that Elko New Market is a small, business-friendly community,” said Russell.” After weighing it all and putting a business plan together, we went for it, my family moved out in March, and we opened in July 2020.” The two built the pharmacy from the ground up. They renovated the interior, added a drive through, and installed high-quality wood shelves to offer a welcoming pharmacy experience.
Large impact through a family pharmacy
Their pharmacy is located in Elko New Market, a small town in Minnesota with a population of about 4,000. The pharmacy serves as the only healthcare entity in town besides the dentist. “We strive to meet the needs of our small town community lacking healthcare resources by providing high quality, patient-centered care where patients are treated like family.” says Pivec, “We value the opportunity to be an active member of our community by supporting local charities, organizations, and small businesses.”
The role of a pharmacist in a small town is more than just “the man behind the counter.” Pivec and Russell offer medication expertise, therapy management, immunizations, and recommendations regarding how to treat and manage illness. Recently, they’ve been administering COVID-19 shots to the community. They bring more than just a storefront; they bring friendly expertise. The role of pharmacists has been changing. What was once a career largely seen as behind-the counter drug-experts, pharmacists are now critical members of the healthcare team.
“I believe the pharmacist/patient relationship is the foundation of quality health care,” says Russell. He strives to treat each patient as if they were a member of his own family.
Opening a business during a pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic caused the nation to shut down in March of 2020. The pharmacy opened in July, four months into the pandemic. To say the pandemic altered their launch plans is an understatement.
“The pandemic completely changed what we were going to do and how we were going to market our pharmacy as a community-intertwines business,” said Russell,” Starting a pharmacy during a pandemic isn’t something we considered when we were planning, but we made due with what we got.” The two shifted to offer free or low-cost local delivery service on prescriptions and general pharmacy supplies, and mail service. “We sell mouth wash, toothbrushes, all those things you need to get and are happy to deliver,” said Russell, “We jump in our personal vehicles and meet our customers where they’re at.”
They were planning to be more involved with local sporting events, host a community launch party, and be at local events in-person to meet people. The pandemic has made those components more difficult, but they continue to emphasize family-friendly service even through the pandemic.
Pharmacists at the center of community healthcare
Pivec and Russell are going against the grain. Industry-wide, small pharmacies are dwindling in a shift toward more chain pharmacies. Pivec and Russell are confident their patient population and community support will sustain their dream of owning and operating a community pharmacy.
“We were fed up with how the bigger chains sometimes treated their patients,” said Russell, “The biggest thing we hear is how the bigger chains don’t know who patients are and people don’t get the service they deserve.” Russell and Pivec have been personally delivering medications to a senior living community in town. Instead of a quick exchange over the counter, Pivec and Russell talk informally with their patients and ask them how the medications are working and what they can do for the seniors. “We have great relationships with them,” said Russell, “We get great face-to-face contact with our patients.”
“If you come to the store, you get to talk to a pharmacist. Not something you get at a regular chain pharmacy. As soon as people come here, they experience better service. We’ve heard nothing but positive reviews. Most people tell the same story–they want to support local business and the more they get to know us, we are like family in the community. Our philosophy is to be an active member in the community. We hope to do more community events. With the pandemic it got put on hold a bit. We support the chamber of commerce, do giveaways to local restaurants, and truly hope to be a fabric of the town.” said Russell.
The “family mentality” began at Concordia
At Concordia, pharmacy school is about more than graduating with a degree. It’s about finding your purpose and creating an impact. Faculty treat students with respect and foster a family-first mentality. “We have shared values and Concordia helped shape our outlook on pharmacy practice. We genuinely want to be there for our community.”
Russell and Pivec try to keep the out-of-pocket prices as low as possible. “Obviously we want to succeed, but profit isn’t the main driver as to why we opened our pharmacy. The reason we opened was to make a difference in the community.” said Russell. Elko New Market Pharmacy participates in all the major insurance companies, and they accept most insurance plans and costs are similar to most pharmacies.
“Even if someone doesn’t use us for filling prescriptions, we are happy to answer their calls about medications,” said Russell.
Do you want to know more?
You can read more about their clinic here at Elko New Market Family Pharmacy. You can also follow their Facebook page for updates about the COVID-19 vaccine availability and other pharmacy news.
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