By SHELLY WILKISON
GEORGETOWN — It’s the personal care and attention, and the relationship between professional employees and customers that makes Gallagher’s Pharmacy different.
In fact, the store is so welcoming and the staff so friendly that customers often stop by for a visit and then pick up their medicine while they are there.
“We enjoy getting to know our customers, and we encourage them to linger and they do,” said Brandy Weaver, a certified pharmacy technician who has been with the company 17 years. “We have been taking care of our community for so long that we’ve watched our patients have children, and we now send medicine to them at college.”
Gallagher’s has two locations in Georgetown and is independently owned by Maureen Gallagher, a registered pharmacist with more than 30 years experience. After earning a degree in pharmacy in 1976 from the University of Texas, Ms. Gallagher worked for both independently owned and chain pharmacies before deciding that she belonged in a place where she could do the most good for patients.
“I realized I wasn’t happy with the way I had to practice pharmacy,” she said of her experience with a chain store. “Being understaffed was the root of everything, and kept us from interacting with customers and caring for patients.”
After working 15 years for the previous owners, in 2001, Ms. Gallagher purchased the business in the Lake Aire Shopping Center on Williams Drive when the couple retired.
In 2010, the doctors officing in the Austin Avenue Medical Plaza invited her to open a pharmacy in that building at 3201 S. Austin Ave.
Ms. Gallagher, who has a specialty in pharmaceutical compounding, is regularly called on by health care professionals, as well as veterinarians prescribing human medication for animals, for her expertise.
Pharmaceutical compounding is the creation of particular medications to fit the individual needs of a patient. Ms. Gallagher said patients, including animals, are sometimes unable to take medications in their original form. Changing medications from a solid pill to a liquid form for those unable to swallow is a common request. She said she has also transformed medications into gel form to transport through the skin.
The process is also used to remove non-essential ingredients that the patient may be allergic to, or to create an exact dosage specific for one individual.
“This is a situation where a doctor needs something for a patient that is not commercially available,” Ms. Gallagher said, adding that the practice is highly regulated.
She said she realized Georgetown needed a compounding pharmacy years ago when hospice nurses asked that some medications for nausea, anxiety, agitation and pain be changed into a different form because their patients could not swallow.
Frequently, area veterinarians call on Gallagher’s Pharmacy to compound medication for pets. Ms. Gallagher said cats are especially difficult to medicate with pills and she has changed some medication to a gel that can be applied to the ear.
Gallagher’s compounding lab is located in the Austin Avenue Medical Plaza.
While indepenedently-owned pharmacies are not as common as they once were, Ms. Gallagher said many prefer them because of the level of personal service they can offer. As is the case with Gallagher’s, pharmacists and technicians become trusted consultants and advisers on medicinal issues and wellness. They spend time talking with patients about side effects, drug interactions and help them find solutions.
“We get to know our patients. That’s the reason we got into this business to start with. What I like about our staff is that their work comes from the heart,” she said.
Most of the employees at both pharmacies have been working for the company for many years. In fact, the “newest” employees have been with Gallagher’s for five to seven years. That level of experience and knowledge of customers and their families is second to none in the Georgetown and Liberty Hill area.
Independent pharmacies have an important place in the industry and “pharmacy school graduates are not all running to chains and hospital pharmacies,” Ms. Weaver said. “This isn’t an age thing. They often discover when they get to a chain that they aren’t getting to use their education as they wished. Some want to practice real pharmacy and are interested in pain management.”
Ms. Gallagher said while some large chain pharmacies offer drive thru windows and lots of front-end products from groceries to makeup, patient care and customer service is often neglected.
“And I’m speaking from having the experience working at one,” she said. She added that many stores have quotas for pharmacists and limit the time they can spend with customers. The stores themselves are often designed so that pharmacists work behind tall walls or glass and are not accessible to customers.
When it comes to pricing, Ms. Gallagher said it is a myth that prescription drugs are more expensive at independent pharmacies.
“Some assume chain stores are less expensive on all meds because they have prescription clubs that have lower prices on generics,” she said. “But we have people come in for a quote and they (chain stores) are often four to five times as high (as Gallagher’s).
“We price fairly across the board,” she said, adding that Gallagher’s does offer a discount card.
Gallagher’s Pharmacy accepts all insurance and co-pays remain consistent with the customer’s policy.
Pharmacy staff regularly contact their customers’ insurance companies to inquire about coverage for certain prescriptions.
“Rather than telling them (customers) that ‘your insurance won’t pay’, we take the time to contact their insurance company for them,” Ms. Gallagher said. “We go the extra mile and don’t even think about it. We don’t want them to have to wait, or leave without their medicine, or come back hours later.”
Ms. Gallagher said that even before the recent announcement that M&L Pharmacy in Liberty Hill would be closing, her pharmacies were serving many Liberty Hill customers. However, since the local pharmacy closed its doors in September, more M&L customers are making the short drive to Gallagher’s because of its similarities.
“They know what they had before and it’s the relationship they are looking for,” Ms. Weaver said. “We can give that to them here.”
Gallagher’s Pharmacy in the Lake Aire Shopping Center is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.
The Austin Avenue Medical Plaza location is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.