Virden Pharmacies Lose Business to Toronto supplier

Contract to supply drugs to care homes hurts local stores

Virden’s two pharmacies will feel the pinch in their profits starting this spring when a Toronto-based company takes over the contract to provide pharmaceuticals to personal care homes.

Mike Anderson owns and operates Super Thrifty Drugs in downtown Virden. His store has been providing prescription drugs to the West-Man Nursing Home for at least 17 years.

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He says it was a disappointment to find out by email that the tender he submitted last summer to the Province was rejected in favour of a large corporation.

MediSystem Pharmacy, a national company owned by Shoppers Drug Mart and its parent company Loblaw, recently secured a deal with five Manitoba regional health authorities (including Prairie Mountain Health) to provide pharmaceuticals to 102 care homes.

The deal, which kicks in April 1, effectively locks out the majority of local drug stores across the province.

“Government vs small biz”

Jim Whyte is the owner of Virden Drugs, formerly Martin’s Pharmacy, which opened on King Street East almost a year ago.

His company lost all three of its care home clients: Sherwood Home in Virden, Elkwood Manor in Elkhorn, and Willowview in Reston.

He says it’s a clear case of government versus small business.

“It is obvious that the government has taken that money out of the hands of small business in Manitoba and our economy and shipped it off elsewhere,” he said.  “It will mean significantly less jobs for the Manitoba economy.”

Whyte hopes to develop new revenue streams at his Virden store to maintain current staffing. Super Thrifty is also not expecting to lay off any staff.

But both businessmen are concerned about the acute care pharmaceuticals they deliver on short notice to personal care homes. “How that is going to be possible now, shipping everything out of Winnipeg or further, I have no idea,” said Anderson, who visits the West-Man three times a week to take orders for prescription drug products and delivers them the same day.

Community ties broken

Beyond the financial hit, Anderson is sorry to lose the personal connections he developed with staff and residents of the home. “These are people we know and have dealt with for years. That was a big part of it, the fact we were looking after them.”

Meanwhile, Whyte believes his store has lost potential resale value due to the loss of the personal care home contracts, which was factored into the price he paid for Martin’s Pharmacy.

“The lessons I have been learning through my young business career is to avoid any and all business relationships with the government that we possibly can.”

Political fallout 

Manitoba Opposition Leader Wab Kinew wrote an open letter protesting the decision to take business away from local providers.

Liberal leader Dougald Lamont also weighed in, saying, “The Pallister government is going out of its way to make some of the richest people in Canada even richer, while encouraging layoffs and making it harder for local businesses to compete.”

Prairie Mountain Health CEO Penny Gilson defended the move, saying in a statement, "Residents and their families are reassured that they will continue to receive the same services and will not be affected by this transition.”

She said the contract with MediSystem Pharmacy will ensure consistent services, standardized processes and a “significant cost savings for health care”.

Silver lining

If there is a silver lining to the situation, Whyte has found it in the reduction of hassles he has to deal with.

“I very much look forward to the opportunity to grow my business in other areas now that the government has freed up some of my time, personnel and space in my pharmacy.”

© Virden Empire-Advance