A long-standing independent pharmacy in Storrs shut its doors last week, a move the owner said was a direct result of a provision within the tentative labor agreement reached between the governor’s administration and state unions.
Though it has changed ownership twice, Storrs Drug has been independently owned and operated near the University of Connecticut campus since 1951. In a business profile published by the Journal Inquirer a year ago, current owner Naufel Tajudeen, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, spoke of an expanding business with a focus on community outreach.
At that time, the pharmacy had only recently become certified to administer immunizations to customers and he had expected to offer vaccines for the flu, shingles, and pneumonia last October.
But Tajudeen told Mansfield Today he could not continue to operate the business because of a provision in the tentative labor agreement requiring state union employees to get their prescriptions for daily drugs through a mail order service owned by CVS.
Located within a mile of the state’s largest public university, state union workers make up about 70 percent of Tajudeen’s clientele, he said in that article.
Mark Ojakian, deputy secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, said Tuesday that the provision is a product of negotiations between the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition and it was aimed at saving the state money. Those savings are estimated at $19.87 million in the first year and $20.5 million in the second.
Ojakian said pharmacists are reacting to the provision, saying it will kill their businesses without having any conversations with the administration on ways they could be included.
But as part of a negotiated agreement, the provision did not go through the normal legislative process where it likely would have had a public hearing where independent pharmacists would have had a chance to weigh in on its impact.
“When we sat down to negotiate, it was to find as much savings as we could,” Ojakian recalled.
State employee unions are currently voting on the agreement and Ojakian said neither the Malloy administration nor the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition has any interest in re-opening it to remove the mail-in prescription provision. Opening the agreement for one provision welcomes a barrage of other requests, he said.
However, he said the Malloy administration has heard the concerns of independent pharmacists like Tajudeen and is working on a way to soften the blow. He said that later this week he plans to meet with independent pharmacists, the Connecticut Pharmacists Association, and the members of SEBAC to find a way to allow local pharmacists to take part in the mail-in program within the confines of the negotiated agreement.
“We’re trying to work on a mechanism that will allow independent pharmacies to participate in the program,” he said, as long as they could match the rates the state has gotten from CVS’s Caremark.
Margherita R. Giuliano, executive vice president of the Connecticut Pharmacists Association, confirmed that the meeting was in the works. She said she hadn’t seen the language of the mechanism Ojakian spoke of, but said it has the potential to be helpful to independent pharmacists.
“It depends on what the reimbursement rate is, and it depends on all things being equal on both sides of the equation,” she said.
She said she would like to see the state’s independent pharmacists on a level playing field with Caremark.
Whatever results from that meeting, it may be too late to help Storrs Drug. Calls to the business are already being redirected to Beacon Prescriptions Center in Willimantic, where Tajudeen transferred his remaining client list.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy expressed little sympathy for the business closing Tuesday. At an unrelated event in Windham, Malloy said, “We’re not in the business of subsidizing individual businesses.”
He said he inherited a budget with a $3.5 billion deficit and he did what was necessary to eliminate it.
“So should we not purchase drugs in the most cost effective manner that we can? Is that what people are advocating now? I think we’ve answered it,” Malloy said.
While Malloy may have bigger problems to worry about than one business, people in town will miss it.
On Tuesday morning, former customers of Storrs Drug arrived at the pharmacy to find its doors locked and its windows dark.
Jack Davis, a customer of more than 20 years, said he dropped by hoping to catch Tajudeen to ask about his future plans. He said in the years since Tajudeen took over the pharmacy with his wife, Ami Tajudeen, he has come to like the pharmacist.
“It’s very sad. Naufel is a very nice guy and a very able pharmacist,” he said.
Davis himself is a former state employee. He said he worked as a professor of English literature at UConn for 35 years. But at 86 he will not be affected by the provision which exempts retirees over the age of 65.
He said he will now likely get his prescriptions filled at a nearby Big Y. Maria Gates of Mansfield Center said the same.
Gates, who works as a nurse in Windham, said that she has been coming to Storrs Drug since she was 18, some 30 years ago. It was kind of a pastime for her, she said. She would often go there to buy small products like medication dispensers for her clients at Regency Heights nursing home, she said.
She described Tajudeen as an exceptional young pharmacist who took the time to explain medications to his customers. She showed up for the shop’s liquidation sale, which she thought was scheduled for that day.
Sitting outside the closed up pharmacy, she questioned the logic of requiring people to obtain their medications by mail.
“That’s lousy. You only get so much out of a doctor’s visit. It’s really the pharmacist who talks to you about your medications. That’s just how the system is set up,” she said.