One area where food/drug combination store operators figure to have a distinct advantage over community pharmacies is the concept of whole health, the place where nutrition and health care intersect. Hy-Vee Inc. has emerged as, arguably, the leading practitioner in knitting those two sides of the business together.

Hy-Vee, community pharmacies, food/drug combination store, Paula Correy, health care, nutrition, supermarket, drug store retailer, Affordable Care Act, ACA, patient care, pharmacists, dietitians, Bob Egeland, prescription drug business, mobile health, pharmacy retailers, Ron Pearson, Ric Jurgens, Randy Edeker

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Hy-Vee joins health care with nutrition

August 8th, 2013

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – One area where food/drug combination store operators figure to have a distinct advantage over community pharmacies is the concept of whole health, the place where nutrition and health care intersect. Hy-Vee Inc. has emerged as, arguably, the leading practitioner in knitting those two sides of the business together.

“Health and wellness is a key focus for us,” says senior vice president and chief customer officer Paula Correy, whose diverse responsibilities include oversight of those functions. “Hy-Vee has more pharmacies and pharmacists than anyone else in the markets where we compete.”

The employee-owned supermarket and drug store retailer has a presence in eight Midwestern states, with 238 pharmacies dispersed among its 205 supermarkets, 28 stand-alone drug stores and a handful of other health care facilities.

Correy, who is also a member of Hy-Vee’s board of directors, predicts that with implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the growing shortage of primary care physicians, the retailer’s pharmacies and related health care offerings will assume a larger role in patient care.

“The more we put our pharmacists out in front of customers and give them the opportunity to interact, the better health outcomes will be,” she says. “It’s really important that we’re there to help educate patients and suggest items that go beyond their prescription medications. As a mother of three children, I know what a comfort it is to be able to consult with a pharmacist and have my questions answered by someone I know and trust.”

Hy-Vee views its health care professionals as vital links in the continuum of care. “We see the pharmacist as being the person who can connect with the patient’s doctor and communicate important information that otherwise might not get where it needs to go,” notes Correy. “Ensuring that pertinent patient data is shared in a timely fashion is one way that we can improve health care in the future.

“Our dietitians will also play a part in that. Physicians know that obesity is a major factor in disease state management and addressing that problem is very important.”

Hy-Vee's combo stores have separate entrances for the pharmacy and grocery departments.

Getting people to understand the connection between health and nutrition is a priority for Hy-Vee.

“When customers come in to our pharmacies after having just been diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease or another serious condition, they need to realize that their health can really be impacted by the food they eat,” Correy says. “To have that connectivity between the pharmacists and the dietitians in our stores, and have them working together for the good of the patient, makes a tremendous ­difference.”

Hy-Vee hired its first two dietitians a decade ago. That commitment has grown steadily, and it now has 180 licensed practitioners on staff.

“We have assembled a great group of experts and make their services available in all of our food stores,” comments Correy. “The dietitians frequently take customers through the aisles and show them that they do indeed have healthy choices for their family. It’s an exciting thing to see what they do.”

In light of the program’s acceptance and success, Correy foresees the day when every Hy-Vee supermarket might have two or three dietitians. And, she adds, their work could well extend beyond shoppers who come into the store to touch other patients in the community.

The retailer’s emphasis on nutrition has not caused it to neglect its prescription drug business, which has long been run by vice president of pharmacy Bob Egeland. Work designed to enhance operational efficiency and sharpen the already intense focus on patient care is now under way.

“We plan to open a central-fill facility this winter, which will allow us to take some of the daily fill operations our of our pharmacies,” says Correy. “That will give our pharmacists more time to devote to MTM [medication therapy management] and counseling patients about how important it is for them to keep using their prescriptions properly, so they can enjoy better health.”

The food and drug retailer's pharmacy locations include 28 stand-alone drug stores.

Core capabilities linked to prescription medications are supplemented by a growing range of additional health care services that are coming to be expected from major pharmacy operators. Hy-Vee offers, for example, immunizations for influenza, shingles and a number of travel-related conditions, and it operates walk-in clinics in many of its locations.

New to the company will be a mobile health unit. Set to debut this fall, it will take pharmacist, dietitian and clinic services to areas where Hy-Vee does not have stores as well as giving the retailer a presence at community events throughout its operating area. As always, patient education will be at the forefront.

The company’s commitment to inform its customers about issues related to health and well-being extends to its website and social media channels, which also fall under Correy’s purview. provides information about the retailer’s pharmacy business, including specialized services, nutrition programs and healthy lifestyles, and it sponsors an ongoing health and wellness forum.

The ACA is creating another opportunity for Hy-Vee to assist consumers as they navigate their way through the most far-reaching changes in the nation’s health care system since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s.

“It’s important for pharmacy retailers to be out in front of people and help them understand what the ACA means for them and then get them signed up,” says Correy. “We’re committed to making that process as smooth as possible for our customers and the communities we serve.”

The rise of accountable care organizations and other innovative health care delivery models that has been spurred, in part, by health care reform is another development that Hy-Vee is able to tap.

“We have phenomenal wellness programs for our employees that enable them to improve their health,” Correy notes. “Those programs have had a great impact on people’s lives and pocketbooks over the past five years. So we’re seeing growing demand among companies that want us to work with their employees on staying well in addition to treating conditions after they’ve arisen.”

The layout of Hy-Vee’s combination stores reflects its rock-solid commitment to health and wellness. Separate entrances for the pharmacy and grocery departments are incorporated into the prototype, which features a logical progression of sections from the prescription counter to over-the-counter health care products, vitamins and supplements, and then on to the aisles of supermarket products.

The Health Market section, which was first developed two decades ago under the auspices of former chief executive officer Ron Pearson, provides the connecting tissue between the two parts of the store. It features a wide array of food items, supplements, natural beauty products and other items aimed at shoppers with an intense focus on their well-being.

“Many consumers are concerned about the products they’re using,” Correy says. “That’s as true with a skin care product that’s absorbed by the body as it is with food. Our Health Markets are another way that we can help people address those concerns.”

The emphasis on health and wellness evident during Pearson’s tenure as CEO from 1989 through 2003 has been carried on by his successors, Ric Jurgens and Randy Edeker, who took the reins at Hy-Vee, which generated $7.7 billion in sales during its last fiscal year, which ended in May 2012.

One of Edeker’s first moves was to make Correy Hy-Vee’s chief customer officer, with responsibility for, among other things, pharmacy and health care, areas where service is of paramount importance.

“The key is to always keep learnings and seeing what the opportunities are for the people you work with and for the customers that we all serve,” she comments. “We need to continually evaluate which things are working, which things we need to continue to evolve, and which things we need to change.”