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Bridge Road Rite Aid now a wellness store

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the first time in her 32 years as a Rite Aid pharmacist, Harriet Nottingham will be able to give immunizations in a private consultation room.

When a Rite Aid patient used to visit the pharmacy to receive a vaccination, Nottingham would administer the shot out in the open. The patient sat in a chair next to the pharmacy, while other people stood in line to pick up a prescription or drop off a refill.

Now, Nottingham can take the patient to a private room that's designed for giving immunizations, answering personal health questions and offering more patient privacy.

The Rite Aid on Bridge Road in Charleston is the latest store to convert to a wellness store. The new concept, which Rite Aid started rolling out last year, puts an emphasis on the healthy lifestyle of its customers, said company spokesman Eric Harkreader.

Rite Aid's wellness stores also have healthier food options like organic and gluten-free products and more advanced clinical services from the pharmacy, Harkreader said. The store also expanded its caregiver section. It now sells walkers and other medical-supply store items.

The wellness stores "empower our customers to make healthy decisions and gives our customers more tools to be able to keep their health up," he said.

There are 570 Rite Aid wellness stores nationwide. The Rite Aid on Charleston's West Side, in Kanawha City and in South Charleston are now wellness stores, too.

Nottingham is happy to offer confidentiality to her patients, especially at the pharmacy. Since renovations at the Bridge Road Rite Aid are not finished yet, Nottingham said she hasn't used the private consultation room, but she can't wait.

"I have a room I can come to and it feels more comfortable for the patient," she said while standing in the small room with a table and four chairs. "This room is our biggest advantage. Patients will feel freer to ask questions and they won't infect anyone else if they are sick."

The pharmacy now has separate drop-off and pick-up windows for convenience, she said.

Throughout the Bridge Road drugstore, the shelves have been lowered to offer a clear view to the pharmacy, Harkreader said. Most wellness stores, with the exception of the Bridge Road store, which still has carpet -- feature new hardwood floors that lead directly back to the pharmacy, Harkreader said.

The new look resembles a traditional health-care setting that customers are used to, he said.

"Pharmacists have stepped up and filled this niche of being on the frontline of health care," Harkreader said. "Many Rite Aid patients are in there more often than they may see their regular health-care provider. This is one more way to emphasize healthy lifestyles and all things that go with that."

A new "wellness ambassador" stand in the middle of the store is the go-to place for customers who have specific questions about vitamins and over-the-counter products.

A "wellness ambassador" will be available to answer customers' questions using a custom iPad. The new position, which was created for the wellness store, will connect the customer to the pharmacy by offering clinical advice and the services of Rite Aid pharmacists.

The wellness ambassadors will serve as a bridge between the front end of the store and the pharmacy, Harkreader said. The Bridge Road store will have two.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said Rite Aid's wellness stores provide another service to help West Virginians get healthier.

"With the health challenges we face within the state of West Virginia, we need an all-hands-on-deck approach," Dr. Gupta said. "Whether it's the pharmacies, schools, public officials or in local health departments, all of us can play a critical role in being a part of a momentum to shift the tide of the obesity epidemic."

In addition to Rite Aid's health renovations, the entire Bridge Road store has been remodeled.

A 2,500-square-foot space that was used for unneeded storage is now a sleek-looking liquor room with hardwood floors.

The room carries almost 700 varieties of alcohol, said Jessica Sloan, shift supervisor for the Bridge Road Rite Aid. Before the renovations, the store carried only 300 types of alcohol, she said.

Sloan said the store's 25 smaller aisles make it easier to direct customers -- who have welcomed the new look -- to the right products.

"Customers have said they're so glad that they can come here and they don't have to go to 10 different places to shop," she said.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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