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RedSail Technologies recently partnered up with the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) to present the 2022 NICE Awards. The NICE Awards showcase the best of the best in community pharmacy branding and marketing. This year, three PioneerRx pharmacies won three respective NICE Awards in the following categories: Best Community Engagement, Best Internal Modification, and Best Delivery Vehicle.
Today, we hear from the winner of the Best Community Engagement Award, Phipps Pharmacy.
August 21, 2021 seemed like another normal day — until it wasn’t.
What started off as a summer shower in Western Tennessee turned into a steady downpour, and then that downpour turned deadly. In the small town of Waverly, rains rose to 17” in less than 24 hours, leading to record floods that left residents scrambling. Clinging to their homes, their belongings, and their loved ones, Waverly’s 4,000 residents endured what meteorologists would later call a “once-in-a-thousand-year event.”
That hot August day, 20 people lost their lives.
Among the victims were several elderly residents, a toddler, and a set of 7-month-old twins swept from their parents’ arms. Over 500 homes were damaged, and half of those homes were destroyed entirely.
In the wake of the flood, Waverly Mayor Buddy Frazier said, “This is the most devastating disaster that we’ve ever experienced.”
But in the midst of devastation, Phipps Pharmacy was there.
Before the floodwaters rose, Phipps Pharmacy had already faced its fair share of challenges.
Nearly 20 years earlier, President and CEO Jay Phipps had opened up shop — fresh out of residency and ready to start his journey. And he’d been successful. Over the years, Jay owned and operated Phipps Pharmacy and even expanded to 3 other locations: offering great service, at great prices, with great people behind him.
But two decades in, Jay found that he was struggling to stay afloat.
Looking back, Jay recalls, “Honestly, it’s really interesting because I saw my struggles, and I saw lots of other people in the pharmacy world struggling. We did compounding, we did strip packaging, and we did all of the things that other successful places were doing, but somehow, we still weren’t doing a great job. Something was missing.”
But Jay wasn’t ready to go down without a fight.
Using an apt analogy, he says, “The head of the Air Force [Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr.] recently said that the Air Force had to either ‘accelerate change or lose.’ In late 2019, I decided that I had to accelerate change.”
Jay knew change wouldn’t be easy, but it would be worthwhile — so he and his team set out to work.
Jay explains, “In 2020, in addition to the challenges we faced with COVID, I changed to PioneerRx… because it allowed us to do things we couldn’t do with other systems. I changed my wholesaler. I changed my buying group. And I opened a new pharmacy, all in the first quarter.”
That new pharmacy happened to be in Waverly, TN. In high spirits, Jay and his team cut the ribbon on July 1, 2021 — celebrating a new start after the challenges they faced over the years.
Little did they know, though, that only six weeks later, the greatest challenge of all would hit them head-on.
On August 21, 2021, Jay Phipps started his day like any other: but nothing would be the same by the end of it.
The night before, rain fell in Waverly, but Jay didn’t know that the water had passed 17” — and he certainly didn’t know that a flood was on the way.
That morning, though, Jay was faced with the reality of the situation.
He got a text from one of his pharmacists, who said that the water was too high to safely make it to work. Then, a few minutes later, he got a call from his Director of Pharmacy, who had happened to make it in. She mentioned that she had just spoken with a patient who had seen livestock floating down the creek near the pharmacy.
Jay says, “I didn’t really believe it at first. I went and got my knee high-boots and threw my waders in the truck. I drove over [to Waverly], and we had water within 100 feet of the pharmacy. People were stuck on their roofs, and the water was continuing to rise… In 10 to 15 minutes, people’s yards were swallowed up in 5 or 6 feet of water. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
As waters rose and emergency operations began, Jay kept residents in the immediate area safe.
Bystanders had been standing under the awning of the pharmacy to avoid the rain, so Jay and his team brought them inside. They offered a safe place to stay, and more importantly, they offered a listening ear.
There, in the pharmacy, patients shared their stories: of friends and family getting swept away, of pets getting trapped at home, and of fears for the future.
As the day wore on, many residents were rescued. Still, many weren’t. Homes were damaged or destroyed. Possessions were lost. Pets were gone. The electricity was out, and the water wasn’t running.
But most importantly, loved ones were lost — all in a landslide event that no one could have prepared for.
It didn’t take long for Jay to know that Waverly was in the wake of a crisis. Nothing would fix the lives that had been lost, but Jay was ready to spring into action to save what remained of the community — and, eventually, rebuild.
Phipps Pharmacy was one of the first businesses to brave the floodwaters.
Many residents were still reeling from the loss, and help from humanitarian groups like the American Red Cross hadn’t yet arrived, so it was up to pharmacies like Jay’s to act fast.
The day after the flood, the Phipps Pharmacy team loaded up several pallets of water in a trailer, then took them to town and passed them out to thirsty bystanders. It was August in Tennessee, and the temperatures were pushing 100 degrees — so hydration was more important than ever.
In addition to water, the team purchased personal hygiene items and gave them out to people at the pharmacy. If people couldn’t make it in, Jay and his team went door to door, passing out supplies to anyone who needed them.
In the following days, the team continued to pass out items while trying to keep the pharmacy running.
They spent hours dispensing replacement medications and calling insurance companies to get emergency overrides — all while hearing stories and wiping tears from patients who had lost it all.
That same week, Jay coordinated donation drives in 17 drop-off locations across Middle and Western Tennessee.
People from all across the state donated thousands of items, from toilet paper to toothbrushes to an assortment of clothing items. Once the items were sorted, Jay set up shelves in the pharmacy and pick-up areas across town so that residents could take what they needed.
Jay’s six-year-year-old son, Eli, even got in on the action: handing out stuffed animals to other children as their parents shopped for necessities.
For Jay, the entire experience was emotional.
He explains, “The most heart-wrenching part was when people would come by and pick up clothes for their family members’ funerals. They didn’t have any clothes to wear to the funerals of their grandkids, their mom, their dad, their sister. It was very challenging and overwhelming, but it was also very rewarding, because we were able to be there for people when they needed it most. I really felt the community come together.”
And, indeed, the community did come together. A few weeks after the flood, Phipps Pharmacy teamed up with a local eatery, Poot’s BBQ, to serve over 300 hot meals to flood victims and relief workers. Then, at Thanksgiving, they teamed up again: bringing in an additional 200 meals to hungry Waverly residents.
At Christmas, Jay’s team organized an event, “Claus for a Cause,” where kids could come in, take a picture with Santa, and go home with a toy. It was a simple way to bring holiday cheer, but that year, it brought hope.
And if that wasn’t enough, Jay and his team worked with local vendors to design “Humphreys County Strong” t-shirts and merchandise. All proceeds were donated to flood victims. Phipps Pharmacy still offers t-shirts to this day, and more importantly, they offer help to anyone in Waverly who needs it.
Aside from help in the local community, Phipps Pharmacy saw support from the pharmacy community.
The Union University College of Pharmacy collected over $2,300 in donations, which helped to stock the pharmacy’s shelves with supplies. Smith Drug Company and AmerisourceBergen also sent in several shipments of items directly to Phipps Pharmacy.
Jay was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from the pharmacy community — the kind of support that only independents can offer.
With so much help on his side, Jay says he can’t take the credit for Phipps Pharmacy’s new NICE Award.
Although he is honored to take home the gold, he says, “This award is bigger than Phipps Pharmacy. It’s a community award… And, at the end of the day, you don’t do anything for any awards. You just get up and you go to work and you try to help people.”
For Jay, the opportunity to rebuild his community is rewarding enough. Work is being done, and restoration is on the way, but Jay knows that it takes a long time to heal — long past when the cameras are rolling and the awards are being handed out.
Jay says, “I’ve said this a hundred times, but this flood will only be in your memory for a news cycle. And then what? People help out with what’s fresh on their minds, but when it’s left their minds, they move on. But the people affected by this flood still need help.”
Someone has to stick around to see the recovery from start to finish — and from the first moment of the flood to today, that someone is Jay Phipps and his team at Phipps Pharmacy.
From building their business back up to helping their community stand strong, there is no one more deserving of a little recognition than Phipps Pharmacy.