MARYLAND HEIGHTS • It’s not uncommon to see pharmacies, floral shops and cooking classes in grocery stores. Now, a local supermarket chain has taken the next big step — into health care.
“It’s not something you associate with a supermarket,” said Michael Abrams, managing partner at a St. Louis health care consulting firm.
Schnucks, the Midwest and St. Louis chain, opened its first Schnucks Infusion Solutions facility on Page Service Road in September to treat acute and chronic conditions.
Infusion therapy involves injecting medicine through a needle or catheter. It is used for conditions such as infectious diseases, nutrition disorders, immune deficiencies, hemophilia, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, Crohn’s disease and more.
At the 6,500-square-foot center, nurses, pharmacists and technicians prepare infusions and administer them either in the patients’ homes or in the facility’s ambulatory infusion center.
Abrams said the new venture is smart.
He said infusion centers are profitable because they administer expensive treatments. They’re also attractive to consumers and insurance companies because they provide outpatient care and are more cost-effective than visiting a hospital.
Dr. David Parks, an internal medicine specialist who sees a lot of HIV patients, said he used to dislike prescribing IV medications because it meant hospital admissions. Not only was that more expensive, but Medicare patients were required to stay at long-term facilities during their treatments.
Schnucks Infusion Solutions, though, accepts Medicare D, Medicaid and Illinois Public Aid.
“I can have the best of both worlds,” Parks said. “So can the patient, so can the payers. It’s just way more cost-effective.”
Erma Bagley can testify to that.
Now 64, the St. Ann resident stayed in the hospital for almost a year because nursing homes said they could not provide her with the magnesium she needs that her body won’t absorb. Finally in September, she was referred to Schnucks and is back at her own home on a constant magnesium drip.
“It was a blessing because I didn’t think I was ever going to get out of (the hospital),” she said. “It feels good to be home.”
The ambulatory infusion center provides comfort, too. Dana Hampton, infusion manager, said treatments can take up to eight hours, so patients are provided with a cozy room, free Internet, a flat-screen TV with cable and a snack bar.
And only three infusion chairs occupy the room. Many hospitals have up to 50 chairs for infusion services in their chemotherapy or dialysis clinics.
Emmitt Williams, 40, of St. Louis, used to visit a specialist for his Crohn’s, but when his insurance coverage changed, he was referred to Schnucks.
“It’s not the typical hospital-feel atmosphere,” he said. “They put the human touch on it.”
Randall Ceaser, 52, of St. Louis, visits the center weekly for a knee infection.
“They’re just excellent,” he said. “As far as taking care of you when you come in to when you check out, you’re not alone and they make sure you’re comfortable all the time.”
All nurses at the site have certified registered nurse infusion accreditation from the Infusion Nurses Certification Corp., which is the only nationally accredited certification.
The staff provide evening and weekend appointments on top of their regular hours, and they’re on call for assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The facility also has a full-retail and specialty pharmacy, and staff members have access to patients’ online medical profiles to prevent duplication of prescriptions — something many infusion centers don’t have.
Plus, there’s room for growth.
While any prescription can be delivered through the home infusion services, there are talks of grocery delivery in the future. Schnucks could also expand into pharmacy care at long-term facilities that have separate requirements for prescription packaging, such as nursing homes.
Abrams, from health care consulting firm Numerof & Associates Inc., called the integration of services a terrific idea.
“It’s a kind of synergy I hadn’t thought about, and kudos to them for being creative here,” Abrams said.
Dave Chism, director of pharmacy services for Schnucks, proposed the idea three years ago. He believes infusion therapy is a natural outgrowth of the Schnucks pharmacy division, especially with national health care reform.
“As health care is being more and more driven out of hospitals and into clinics and patients’ homes, it’s a natural progression for the pharmacy to follow up on the patient’s need,” he said.
Drugstore retailer Walgreens has been in the infusion business for decades.
The company offers home services and infusion centers with 75 infusion pharmacies nationwide, 100 alternative treatment sites, and a staff of more than 1,400 infusion nurses, pharmacists, dietitians.
Walgreens has an infusion center in Fenton that’s been open for around four years.
Chism hopes opening Schnucks Infusion Solutions will bring more grocery customers because patients and their families will become regular Schnucks pharmacy customers.
Abrams said he thinks the supermarket chain could raise the bar for similar companies.
“It has the potential to create a more of a market-based approach to this kind of care,” he said. “That, in my opinion, would be a good thing.”
This report was prepared in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.