Two iconic Berks pharmacies merging

Esterbrook Pharmacy is merging with West Reading Drug Store in January. 

Established in 1897, the West Reading Drug Store is the oldest pharmacy serving Berks County. 

The move is joining two iconic pharmacies with deep roots in the community. 

The merger will allow Tower Health Reading Hospital to use the current space held by Esterbrook Pharmacy to grow and expand. 

The West Reading Drug Store is located at 538 Penn Ave. in West Reading.  

Current Esterbrook Pharmacy customers can have refills or new prescriptions filled at the West Reading Drug Store.  

“Esterbrook Pharmacy customers will continue to receive the individualized service they are accustomed to by the same friendly, knowledgeable, experienced pharmacists and pharmacy staff at West Reading Drug Store,” said Eric Esterbrook, pharmacist and owner of West Reading Drug Store. “Being an independent pharmacy is of upmost importance to me.” 

Customers will continue to receive current benefits such as compounding service, immunizations provided on-site, free delivery within 10 miles of West Reading Drug Store, the filling of disposable mediplanners, long-term care, on-line prescription refills and access to a free app which enables a user to refill prescriptions 24 hours a day 7 days a week. 

Highmark Health partners with tech platform, looks to streamline member access to specialty medications 

Highmark Health is working with a Pittsburgh-based health care technology startup to streamline member access to prescription drugs from specialty pharmacies. 

Free Market Health, a cloud-based marketplace created to make it easier for insurers to authorize specialty medications to the pharmacy, and ultimately the patient, announced that it has raised $13.5 million in Series A Funding. 

Highmark’s capital investment arm, Highmark Ventures, was one of a number of companies, including 653 Investment Partners and Alta Partners, to support the funding round. 

Highmark has worked with Free Market Health’s market platform to remove pain points in the specialty pharmacy process, said Sarah Marche, senior vice president of pharmacy services for Highmark Inc. 

“Our collaboration with Free Market Health means that Highmark members will enjoy quicker access to prescription drugs for chronic, high-cost health conditions, from specialty pharmacies tailored to serve their particular condition,” Marche said in a press release. “Working with Free Market Health advances our goal of transforming the pharmacy experience for our members and ensuring they have access to proven, affordable prescription drugs that help them be at their best.” 

Specialty drugs make up just under half of Highmark’s $5 billion in annual drug spending, while specialty drugs make up less than 1% of the insurer’s claim volume, according to Marche. 

“A very small percentage is driving a large percentage of our spend,” she said, adding that Highmark is currently collecting data to see what savings it can see under the platform. “We are not at the point of having a full savings report.” 

Free Market was founded in 2019 with the goal of balancing the cost of care and the value that care provides. The company wrote in its release that it has a year of full scale operating under its belt and in that year, it has facilitated a match of thousands of specialty medication referrals and has hundreds of millions of dollars in specialty medication spend under management. 

“Until now, no model seamlessly matched patients to the specialty pharmacy best suited for their care needs, let alone enabled the type of value orientation under a market-driven and dynamic reimbursement framework,” said Pete Hudson, managing director at Alta Partners, a health care venture capital firm. “Free Market Health sits at the intersection of price, value, and efficiency, for the ultimate benefit of the patient.” 

Rite Aid to close 63 stores, expects further closures in the future 

Rite Aid plans to shutter 63 of its stores as part of the first phase of a new store closure program, the Camp Hill-based pharmacy chain announced in its third quarter results for 2021. 

The stores chosen for closure have yet to be named. The closures are expected to provide the company with an annual EBITDA benefit of $25 million. 

“Today, we also announced the first phase of a store closure program to reduce costs, drive improved profitability and ensure that we have a healthy foundation to grow from, with the right stores in the right locations, for the communities we serve and for our business,” said Heyward Donigan, president and CEO of Rite Aid. 

Rite Aid expects to increase the number of store closures in the coming months as it continues to review its 2,488 retail pharmacy locations across 17 states. Employees impacted by the closures will be able to transfer to other stores. 

In its third quarter results, Rite Aid reported $6.23 billion in revenues from continuing operations during the 13-week period ending Nov. 27—an increase from $6.12 billion during the same period last year. 

The pharmacy chain noted in its report that the 1.8% increase was driven by growth within its retail pharmacy segment, partially offset by a decline in its pharmacy services segment. 

The company reported a net loss from continuing operations of $36.1 million this quarter, a jump of 739% over the $4.3 million in the third quarter of 2020.  

“The increase in net loss is due primarily to higher facility exit and impairment charges driven by the company’s store closure decisions,” Rite Aid wrote in its report. “Other variance drivers include a LIFO charge in the current quarter compared to a Last in, First Out (LIFO) credit in the prior year third quarter and a lower gain on the sale of assets. These items were partially offset by an increase in adjusted EBITDA and lower depreciation and amortization expense.” 

Rite Aid announced in September that it will move its headquarters to Philadelphia early next year as it shifts to a focus on remote work. 

As part of the move, Rite Aid plans to open “regional collaboration centers” across the country that will allow its teams to work together when needed. Rite Aid hasn’t announced where these hubs will be located but has confirmed that one will be in the midstate. 

Rite Aid focuses on remote work in upcoming headquarters change 

Rite Aid’s headquarters in Cumberland County. PHOTO/Markell DeLoatch –

Rite Aid, headquartered in East Pennsboro Township, Cumberland County, plans to relocate its headquarters to Philadelphia as part of a new focus on remote work. 

The national drugstore chain said this month that it will be reimagining its workplace model to do away with office spaces and instead focus on “in-person collaboration and company gatherings” at a new headquarters in Philadelphia. 

As part of the move, Rite Aid plans to open “regional collaboration centers” across the country that will allow its teams to work together when needed. Rite Aid hasn’t announced where these hubs will be located but has confirmed that one will be in the midstate. 

The move to this remote work focus was spurred by an internal survey among Rite Aid’s corporate associates, which found that a vast majority preferred working from home, according to a Rite Aid press release. 

“We’re changing our business from the inside out, and our reimagined workplace is the latest exciting step toward the future of this company,” said Heyward Donigan, CEO of Rite Aid. “We believe in remote work, and as we lean into it for the long term, we are investing in a physical footprint that will facilitate its best version. We’ve heard directly from our associates that teams want and need to meet in-person, and we think we’ve found the right balance between the flexibility of remote work and the power of on-site collaboration.” 

The pharmacy chain currently plans to locate its new headquarters to Philadelphia’s Navy Yard district. The new location would feature space for teams across Rite Aid’s various businesses, including Rite Aid retail, Elixir, Health Dialog and Bartell Drugs. 

“This is about building a reimagined workplace, where our associates have the flexibility they prefer and also have innovative, modern and new spaces that demonstrates a new Rite Aid,” said Brad Ducey, senior manager of external communications at Rite Aid. 

Rite Aid doesn’t expect to see any layoffs as part of the move to Philadelphia and instead is actively hiring and looking to grow its corporate team of 700, according to Ducey. 

The move will allow Rite Aid to occupy a smaller headquarters while still encouraging face to face communication with its associates through the collaboration centers. The remote-work-first attitude will also allow the company to more easily recruit talent no matter their location, said Jim Peters, COO at Rite Aid.  

“This transformation of our workforce brings Rite Aid into the modern era of work. We can recruit the best talent regardless of their location, and we can give our corporate associates the freedom and flexibility that today’s workers crave,” said Peters. “Our new headquarters and collaboration centers will have a unifying effect on our enterprise and serve as an important space for our teams to be together when needed.” 

Rite Aid operates 2,500 retail pharmacy locations across 17 states. It was founded in Scranton in 1962. 

Rite Aid has yet to announce a timeline for its move out of its current headquarters at 30 Hunter Lane, East Pennsboro Township, or what it intends to do with the space. 

If the pharmacy chain does plan to sell the property, any potential buyer would find a modern, well-kept workplace with easy access to downtown Harrisburg, said George Tyson, president of East Pennsboro Township’s Board of Commissioners. 

It’s a great facility, strategically located and surrounded by areas in the midst of development or in the cusp of development,” said Tyson. “Those properties have been snatched up because of the proximity. People that know the area know how strategic it is.” 

Tyson said that Rite Aid has been a great neighbor to the region during its decades in Cumberland County but given the number of significant changes that the business has undergone in recent years, such as its selling of 1,932 Rite Aid stores and three distribution centers to Walgreens in 2017, it was not surprising that the company had plans for a change in headquarters. 

There has always been some awareness that the changes with Rite Aid were probably not finished,” he said. “Given the landscape of the business they are in and previous transactions, we knew that continued changes were going to take place we just didn’t know what they were.”