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Mission: Going high-tech to aid patients, pharmacies

| Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Mission Pharmacy’s long-term care pharmacy director Vince Politi organizes rolls of barcoded prescription drugs that are individually blister-wrapped for patients.
Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Mission Pharmacy’s AutoMed machine barcodes and wraps prescription drugs for the nursing home patients the company serves across the region.

Mission Pharmacy, a Kittanning long-term-care pharmacy that supplies nursing home patients with medication, is looking south for growth.

The 14-year-old company acquired St. Clair Hospital's Senior Care Pharmacy in June for an undisclosed price, giving it a presence in Scott.

“Strategically, we think we can further our reach,” said Shawn Nairn, an owner and retail operations director for Professional Specialized Pharmacies LLC, the Kittanning-based parent of Mission and six Hometown Pharmacy stores around Western Pennsylvania.

Mission Pharmacy's clients served a total of 3,000 nursing home patients before the St. Clair purchase, which added 400. Nairn said he expects the presence in Allegheny County to make Mission more attractive to potential customers.

Nairn and Mission's long-term care pharmacy director, Vince Politi, said they aren't actively seeking more acquisitions. But there are many smaller operations in Western Pennsylvania — such as St. Clair's pharmacy — that will struggle to implement electronic record systems that are being required by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Electronic Medication Administration Records, or eMARs, are the pharmacy version of the electronic medical record systems that hospitals across the country are installing.

“Using bar-code technology with an electronic medication administration record substantially reduces transcription and medication administration errors, as well as potential drug-related adverse events,” according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a division of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The investment to add such systems could push some of Mission's competitors to sell their businesses, Politi and Nairn said.

“There are a lot of changes going on in the industry,” Nairn said. “It's our theory that some of the smaller operations may not be able to exist.”

Nairn said Mission has spent $25,000 so far to comply with eMARs, a cost that's expected to increase as the company buys equipment with each facility it adds to its system.

Nairn and Politi believe the investment in technology is paying off for Mission, which has doubled its sales during the past 18 months. Narin declined to provide specific sales figures for Mission but noted that overall sales for Professional Specialized Pharmacies, which includes revenue from its six retail pharmacies, is expected to reach $30 million for 2013.

But keeping that growth going is becoming a bigger challenge as the government and private insurers work to slow the pace at which health care costs are rising.

“There's only so many dollars” that can be spent on health care, Politi said. The company already operates on “very thin” profit margins, and efforts to hold down drug prices have a big effect on pharmacy operators, he said.

But expansion of health coverage next year under the Affordable Care Act should mean more patients for companies like Mission, Nairn said, who called President Obama's health care law a “double-edge sword” because it is expected to further squeeze margins but increase volume.

About 90 people work for Mission Pharmacy, and 60 work at the Hometown Pharmacies, Politi said.

The company's largest client is Presbyterian SeniorCare, an Oakmont-based operator of skilled nursing homes and other elder-care facilities in Western Pennsylvania.

Presbyterian hired Mission at the beginning of this year to supply three nursing homes it owns in Oakmont, Washington and Verona, spokeswoman Janice Citeroni said.

“They're very customer-focused,” she said. “They just really go above and beyond for our residents and nurses.”

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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