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Herald Journal Publishing
PO Box 129
Winsted, MN 55395
(320) 485-2535

Pharmacists: a matter of trust

Time and again, people say their pharmacists are the one they trust most – even ahead of clergy, physicians

By Lynda Jensen

Ask someone whom they trust when it comes to a profession, and they will tell you it’s their pharmacist.

In fact, year after year, pharmacists score the highest when it comes to polls about whom people trust  – even above medical doctors, clergy, and bankers.

For the past 27 years, pharmacists have rated in the top three according to Gallup polls.  In 2006, 73 percent of respondents said that druggists/pharmacists are “high” or “very high” in terms of honesty and ethics.

In particular small town, longtime pharmacists appear to be valued for skills that make pharmacists, in general, so valued and respected – good, unbiased advice and the skillful transfer of critical products – along with the friendship and familiarity of knowing their customers so well.

Most of the local pharmacists have dispensed everything from aspirin to morphine to people they’ve known for decades; serving everyone from newborns to senior citizens and everyone in between.

Why do people trust their pharmacists so much?

Third generation pharmacist Kelly Keaveny of Cokato says it’s because pharmacists are available around the clock, have a clear understanding of the drugs they dispense, and also know how much the drugs cost, the latter of which isn’t always the case for modern-day physicians, he said.

With the average physician time spent with patients dwindling, down to an average of 12 minutes now, the services of a small-town pharmacist appear to be needed now more than ever.

“People trust pharmacists because they get easy access to a health care professional,” agreed pharmacist John Ringold of Howard Lake. 

Pharmacist Rose Rosdahl of Watertown echoed this sentiment, saying that druggists are readily available to answer questions. “They usually provide unbiased opinions about drugs and medical conditions,” she added.

“Pharmacists are readily available,” commented Deb Keaveny of Cokato.

“We are the end line for patients’ health care after seeing the doctor,” noted Dassel pharmacist Mike Sylvester.

Retired Winsted pharmacist Ken Kremer, who has worked as a pharmacist for more than 36 years, summed it up in two words: “We care,” he said simply.

Masters of communication

Patrons don’t seem to make simple interactions with their pharmacists, like buying items at any other store, or making simple transactions with little thought; in fact, far from this.

The process is actually a slice of highly skilled communication about something that affects every phase of a patron’s life.

“Pharmacists are masters of communication and very good listeners, knowing what questions to ask,” said longtime pharmacist Carl Ingebrigtson of Delano.  As a pharmacist for 48 years, Ingebrigtson enjoys the interaction with his patrons, but also knows what to look for. “Pharmacists will always be needed for prescriptions – but needed more for information about the drugs they are taking,” he said.

What is demanded by patrons, and supplied by their druggists, seems to be a portion of instant, personalized advice that is administered specifically to each patient, based on a drug or a combination of drugs they are prescribed, combined with diet, and given by a human being who knows them fairly well, and probably knows their family, too.

Who are the local pharmacists?

The following is a profile of local pharmacists in the area.

John Ringold
Howard Lake Drug

Next year will be Ringold’s 30th year as a druggist at Howard Lake Drug, which he owns with his wife, Marilyn Ringold, of Howard Lake.

Previously, he worked 10 years in Stillwater as a pharmacist. This adds up to nearly four decades of service.

He was working part-time at a pharmacy while in high school, which caught his interest in the pharmaceutical field in the first place.

Why does he like being a druggist? “I enjoy helping people,” Ringold answered.

Ringold enjoys the “morning coffee bunch,” he said, referring to a group of regulars who patronize the drug store and enjoy the old-fashioned, original soda shop atmosphere. In fact, the drug store, which has a great deal of original memorabilia, has been featured in Star Tribune for its famous “mud ball sundae.”

Mike Sylvester
Peterson Pharmacy, Dassel

“I’ve been working as a pharmacist for 42 years,” Sylvester commented. He started in Dassel in 1975, working there until the present day, at Peterson Drug. Before that time, he spent 10 years in Milwaukee.

What got him interested in this field?

“I worked in a drug store in Hutchinson for three to four years while in high school,” Sylvester said.

What does he enjoy the most about his chosen career path? “Helping people control their health or at least improve it, if possible,” he said.

His favorite customers are the ones who bring in their prescriptions ahead of time when they need to be faxed to the doctor for more refills.

Rose Rosdahl
Watertown Pharmacy

Rosdahl has enjoyed 24 years of serving customers as a pharmacist, with the last seven being at Watertown Pharmacy. Before then, she worked for a decade at Marsden Drug in Waconia, and six years before that at Snyder Drug in Long Lake.

What caught her interest in the pharmacy business? “I started in high school in the work study program. My dad got me a job at the clinic pharmacy where he worked,” she said.

She likes the interaction with patrons, and her favorite customers are the ones who share how their drug therapy is working. “I mostly enjoy talking with the people,” she said. “It is rewarding to help them troubleshoot the issues they have.”

Ken Kremer (retired)
Kremer Pharmacy of Winsted

In high school, Kremer’s guidance counselor suggested being a druggist to him because, as a student, he was strong in math and science. He decided to give it a try, noting that his mother also worked at a drug store. In 1969, he graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in the pharmaceutical field. He spent some early years in Tracy, Minn. at Dietz Drug. Now, more than 36 years later, Kremer ended a distinguished career in the field when he sold Kremer Pharmacy to Kelly and Deb Keaveny in 2005.

What did he like the most about it? “Serving others – helping – making people’s lives more comfortable,” he said.

He was well-tuned to his patrons, and knew each customer’s situation very well. At times, he remembers bittersweet memories about the diagnosis of people he’s cared about over the years. “If we couldn’t laugh, we’d cry or go crazy,” he said of pharmacists in general.

His favorite customers were the ones that he felt he made a significant difference for, he said. “We try hard to give good, helpful information,” he added.

Ironically, Kremer finds himself on the other side of the spectrum in his later life, since he was recently diagnosed with myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, Aug. 24, 2006 (see related article).

Carl Ingebrigtson
Coborn’s of Delano

At the age of 71, Ingebrigtson continues to enjoy working with people, serving as a druggist full-time in Delano.

This year will mark 48 years as a pharmacist, with perhaps many people in the area finding him to be a familiar face, since he has worked part time in Winsted and Howard Lake, as well as the Twin Cities area, along with many years in Delano. In fact, he knows Ken Kremer and is familiar with the Keavenys as well.

Ingebrigtson remembers a time before computers and hand-held calculators, when pharmacists simply remembered prescriptions in their head and computed costs long hand.

Originally, he was prompted to enter the field by a father figure, Wade Lichey.

Since then, he’s enjoyed a long career of visiting with people, developing friendships, and having a heart for service that is as big as all outdoors.

He’s served on the Delano School Board, and encourages others to consider public service, if they can balance family life with what he sees as something necessary for the community.

What does he enjoy? The people. “I really enjoy talking with them,” he said.

Who are his favorite customers? “There are certain people you remember,” he said. One gal he remembered in Delano, who was about 90 years old would call in prescriptions regularly. “She was always good for at least a half-hour conversation.”

He also remembers another lady who retired from the Delano bank. “I’ll never forget her,” he said.

Tom Keaveny (retired)
Keaveny Drug in Cokato

As a second generation pharmacist, Tom Keaveny has spent 48 years in the pharmaceutical business, with 32 of those years spent in Cokato. His son, Kelly Keaveny, bought the business with Kelly’s wife, Deb, in 1996.

His father and brother, James and Dick respectively, were druggists and his family goes back to 1933 for this line of work.

What did he enjoy about his work? “The friends I made in pharmacy,” he answered.

His favorite customer was an older lady in Minneapolis, who would borrow money to get her through the end of the month. Then she’d pay it back at the first of the month, and borrow it again before the end of the month, he said.

Deb Keaveny
Keaveny Drug of Cokato, Annandale and Winsted

Deb Keaveny is a second generation pharmacist and “military brat,” since her father Jim Rolfs of Luverne, Minn. was a pharmacist for the Navy. “I’ve been around pharmacies all my life.”

She owns three pharmacies with her husband, Kelly Keaveny. She began her career in 1987, when she graduated from South Dakota State University. Nowadays, there are 80 percent women who are engaged in the field of pharmacy, but when she went to school, the field was less common for women, with a ratio of about 40 percent women and 60 percent men, she said.

She worked in a Wal-Mart pharmacy near Sioux Falls until 1990, then became a district manager there until 1994.

From there, she worked for a pharmacy benefit management company called DPS for a year. Then, she spent a year working for Schering Plough (the makers of Claritin) in patient compliance, helping patients eliminate allergies.

The couple got married in 1996, which is also the same year they bought Keaveny Drug in Cokato from Kelly’s father, Tom Keaveny. She has been working there since, and has taken an active role in the operation of all three stores.

Kelly Keaveny
Keaveny Drug of Cokato, Annandale and Winsted

Kelly Keaveny is the third generation in a long line of pharmacists, with his father Tom Keaveny and uncle Dick Keaveny being pharmacists.

He has spent two decades in the business, and graduated from North Dakota State University in 1987.

From there, he worked in Kentucky for about three years before returning to the area to work for Wal-Mart in 1990 for five years.

In 1996, Kelly and his wife, Deb, bought Tom Keaveny’s store in Cokato. In 1999, they bought a drug store in Litchfield, and then the next year moved it to Annandale upon request. “When Mike’s pharmacy closed down, they called us and asked us to come,” Kelly Keaveny said.

In April 2005, the Keavenys bought Kremer Pharmacy in Winsted.

What does the future hold?

After retiring from more than 36 years of being a druggist, Kremer sees big changes in the industry in general, which are squeezing the small, independent drug stores out of business, he says.

Pharmacists do not make much of a profit on drugs because of the control that insurance companies exert over drug costs and insurance premiums, Kremer noted. Insurance companies are anti-trust exempt, which most often isn’t a good thing, he added.

“We are barely getting cost for drugs,” Deb Keaveny commented. “That’s why we sell cards and collectibles,” she said.

Most pharmacists share the concern for the small independent and non-corporate drug stores. “Corporations are going to take over,” Tom Keaveny said.

“When Medicare Part D took place, it gave so much power to insurance companies,” Kelly Keaveny said. “It’s a money game,” he continued. “As an independent we’re competing against chains, but also insurance companies to pay proper reimbursement.”

In fact, the service part of a druggist’s job, which is so prized by patrons, is being chipped away because drug companies do not pay for this service, only the drug itself. “There’s no reimbursement for service,” Deb Keaveny said.

“It’s very scary for independent pharmacists because they are the middle man,” Deb Keaveny said. “The patient has insurance, which dictates more and more what doctors can prescribe and what and when it can be dispensed,” she said.

“The pharmacist becomes the bearer of good and bad news. Our time is spent more and more with insurance issues than patient care,” she said. “It’s frustrating for the pharmacist, patient, and physician alike.”

In fact, about 1,100 independent pharmacies went out of business last year nationwide, Deb Keaveny said. Schools are actually encouraging students to steer clear of independents because of the lack of a perceived future.

Some chains are even willing to pay for college loans if the graduates agree to work for them for a certain number of years, she added.

“The ma and pa stores will close and big box stores take over,” Ringold predicted. Kremer agreed, saying that pharmacists are being pushed to give up the service part of their job, which is so much in demand, since they are urged to fill more prescriptions faster. Doctors seldom have time to talk about the drugs they are prescribing, Kremer said.

“The future for independents is challenging,” Sylvester observed. Most insurance companies want prescriptions filled online or by regular mail, with drugs being sent from an unfamiliar source, he said.

Ingebrigtson expressed caution about obtaining information from an unknown source, and encouraged others to use critical thinking in all things. Take information and analyze it, he said. “You can’t accept everything you read,” he added.

Kelly Keaveny noted that some big companies are forcing employees who wish to use benefits to use mail order for prescriptions.

Quite often, items will get lost in the mail, and the customer ends up paying cash to replace something that was already claimed on their insurance, but didn’t arrive at its destination. And if the package does arrive with the prescribed drugs, “the mailman isn’t going to answer questions,” he said.

“It’s all government-driven right now; patients have no rights,” Kelly Keaveny said

However, not all hold misgivings about the future.

“The future of pharmacy is bright,” Rosdahl said. “There are so many new drugs and treatment options on the horizon that will require a highly trained professional for the patient to get the most from their therapy. Hopefully the insurance plans will reimburse the pharmacists for their consulting, to ensure positive outcomes with these new products,” she said.

Advice for young pharmacists

Currently, there is a shortage of druggists, which has been true for nearly a decade. This was noted by most of the pharmacists interviewed.

Women who might be interested in the field should consider the pharmaceutical field, Ingebrigtson said. The job is conducive to family life and can accommodate children easily, he said.

“I think it’s a wonderful profession,” Deb Keaveny said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Ingebrigtson also noted that “you don’t have to be a physical giant to be a pharmacist; as long as you have the mental ability.”

Deb Keaveny agreed with this, saying that women can dictate a schedule that suits them to employers, in part due to the shortage. “There’s such a demand,” she said.

For young pharmacists who are just starting out, local pharmacists offered tips of wisdom.

“Learn to communicate at a level that people can understand,” Kremer said. “You can have all the 50 and 75 cent words you want, but you need to communicate,” he said. “Use the five, 10 or 25 cent words.”

“Stop, look and listen, because you can gain an enormous amount of knowledge by interacting with the patients and learning how they care for themselves, and then use that information to help others,” Rosdahl said. She highly recommends the profession in general. “I would encourage young people to pursue this type of career for a lifetime of job satisfaction.”

“Make the most of your education and enter your profession with enthusiasm and a willingness to help people,” Sylvester said. “Try and give some consideration to getting your own business to keep the independents around for a while,” he added.

“Find the right fit,” Ringold said.