CVS: Partnering in health during and after COVID-19

NRF Retail Converge: CVS Pharmacy/Retail President Neela Montgomery on finding purpose in community

With health care costs continuing to rise — and ever-growing interest in personal health and wellness — challenges of accessibility, affordability and navigability hit close to home.

And that, as it turns out, is a sweet spot for CVS Health. Already a leader as the largest pharmacy services provider in the United States, with the largest network of retail pharmacy stores nationwide, the company has seen its community-based health emphasis shine during the recent pandemic. And we can expect more of the same.

A keynote session at NRF Retail Converge featuring CVS Pharmacy/Retail President Neela Montgomery began with an exploration of the company’s efforts in delivering COVID-19 tests and vaccines. Montgomery took the helm late last year with extensive global retail experience, including serving as CEO of furniture retailer Crate & Barrel.

With the pharmacist as the second most-trusted health care partner, she said, CVS has taken seriously its role in helping overcome vaccine hesitancy; educating the public; taking the vaccines to the communities that need them; and partnering with those who can help with outreach, transportation and other services.

“I’m delighted that we’re in a such a better place now, in June, but there was an awful lot of effort that went into that,” she said. So far, CVS has administered about 24 million vaccines — and there’s still more to do.

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“I do think it’s been an incredible public health effort and it’s been a privilege to be part of it,” she said.

The rebound of the U.S. economy, Shay said, is due to fiscal and monetary support. But it’s also a result of the “amazing effort” at vaccine distribution and rollout. It hasn’t been without challenges, of course, “but CVS Health has played an extraordinarily important and critical role over the last year,” he said. Even before vaccines were available, CVS didn’t close its doors.

CVS began COVID-19 testing early in 2020; the company still has more than 4,500 testing locations and has administered more than 22 million tests in the U.S., Montgomery said.

Montgomery joined the company the first week it administered the vaccine in long-term care facilities. CVS went to more than 40,000 of those facilities over time, helping reach the most vulnerable communities. Today, CVS works to overcome vaccine hesitancy with an army of more than 20,000 medical professionals who go into communities to talk about the science, she said.

But health care over the last year hasn’t just been about COVID-19. During the pandemic, she said, roughly 30 percent of Americans delayed some sort of medical procedure or routine medical interaction. Moving forward, then, she envisions an expanded role for the pharmacist. MinuteClinics and HealthHUB locations already offer a variety of services, and it’s critical for the health of the overall population, she said, that efforts to build the community health destination continue at pace.

“It is really important that people continue to have access to care that’s convenient, affordable and simple to navigate,” she said. “We would like more of our health services to be delivered in the community” — things including birth control, behavioral health, managing diabetes and the like.

“We really are convinced the role of the pharmacist and the role of those community health destinations is going to evolve post-pandemic,” she said. “And accelerate.”

Looking forward, Montgomery also anticipates significant growth in pharmacy being fulfilled online; it’s currently less than 10 percent but is expected to be closer to 50 percent by 2025. Digital offerings have shifted dramatically overall in the last year, she said, and much of that will stick.

“But it will move back to more of an omni experience,” she said. “People will remember what it is that they value about visiting the store and why, and I think it’s incumbent on retailers to remind them that there’s reasons to shift their behavior.”

Watch other sessions by registering for NRF Retail Converge, happening now through June 25.

Watch the full session at NRF Retail Converge.

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