The Baker City Council’s newest member, Dean Guyer, reported to his colleagues during their Tuesday, Jan. 11, meeting about the pharmacy crisis.
Guyer, who was appointed during the Council’s Dec. 14 meeting, talked about problems that have arisen since the pharmacy at the Baker City Bi-Mart store closed in early November.
Customers have waited for hours in line, and in some cases their prescriptions weren’t available when they made it to the counter.
Guyer said he has talked with Bi-Mart, Safeway and Rite Aid, but not with Baker City’s other pharmacy, in the Albertsons store.
He said he was asked to not quote anyone directly.
“I’m really familiar with the pharmacy issue because my wife actually works for a doctor locally that uses all pharmacies in the community,” Guyer said. “I’ve been hearing about the slowness that’s happening at fulfilling pharmaceuticals in the community.”
Guyer said he has experienced the same thing, waiting in line and finding his prescriptions had not been filled.
He said Bi-Mart closed the pharmacy in its Baker City store, and at other Oregon stores, due in part to the cost of prescription drugs.
“What happened with Bi-Mart is that the cost of them buying the drugs themselves was outpacing what the market was willing to pay,” Guyer said.
Helen Loennig, the former longtime pharmacy manager at Bi-Mart, also cited, in an earlier interview, factors such as limited reimbursements from insurance companies, and Oregon’s corporate activity tax, which took effect in 2020.
“So, as a result of that, in a business setting and a business planning, look at your profit centers and if your profit center doesn’t work, you get rid of those areas,” Guyer said. “So, that’s what happened at Bi-Mart.”
The closure of the pharmacy there, which Loennig said had been processing about 1,500 prescriptions per week, caused a sudden influx of new customers at Baker City’s three remaining pharmacies, inside the Safeway, Albertsons and Rite Aid stores.
“They had this huge paper issue as well because, when you’re switching pharmacies, you have to do all this new input into your system to engage new patients,” Guyer said. “So that was the initial problem.”
He said he learned that a pharmacist at Rite Aid had left the job, exacerbating the challenge created by the addition of dozens of new customers.
“They’re looking. These folks are looking for replacements for techs but the problem, again, resides in, OK, how do you entice people to come to Baker,” Guyer said. “That process takes time and that’s what we’re seeing.”
“They are doing as much as they possibly can in the timeframe that they have available to them,” Guyer said of the pharmacies.
Councilor Johnny Waggoner Sr. suggested people look into auto refills for prescriptions if their pharmacy offers that service.
“It makes it easier on them because they can see it coming up,” Waggoner said.
Councilor Joanna Dixon said it takes almost as long to become a pharmacist as it does to become a doctor.
“I have a cousin’s wife that just received her pharmaceutical license this past summer and she was at it for a long time,” Dixon said.
Councilors Heather Sells and Shane Alderson were absent from the Jan. 11 meeting.
In other business, councilors:
• unanimously appointed Doni Bruland to the Public Works Advisory Committee.
• heard from City Manager Jon Cannon, who discussed a concern raised during the previous meeting about how DoorDash, a restaurant meal delivery service, could harm the city’s existing licensed taxi business, Elkhorn Taxi, which also delivers meals.
Cannon said he reviewed state statutes and Baker Municipal Code with the city attorney, who indicated he does not believe either would regulate DoorDash or similar services.
“At this time, I don’t see where we would regulate DoorDash as they’re not a taxi cab, they’re not a limousine, it’s not a delivery guy,” Cannon said.
Dixon said she had seen the only places using DoorDash are McDonald’s and Subway.
“In the spirit of supporting local businesses, if you don’t want to go out and pick it up yourself, you can call a taxi and they will deliver it. Pizza Hut, they’re charging five, six, seven dollars for delivery. Taxi, I think they said they are six dollars,” Dixon said.