BRANDON BARNES: BRINGING THE FLOATING HOSPITAL PHARMACY TO LIFE
Brandon Barnes’ 12-year career at The Floating Hospital began when he was only 19. He began as an executive assistant and held progressive roles in data management and as a benefits counselor. Last fall, he was appointed director of operations at The Floating Hospital Pharmacy, which sees patients from all over the city. For many, the visit to the pharmacy from clinic is a seamless continuation of the services in our integrated care model. And Brandon helps ensure patients are connected all the way.
A native New Yorker, Brandon has a deep understanding of the role local businesses have in their communities. He grew up in Parkchester, the renown planned community in the Bronx that integrated housing, grocery stores and other businesses. That upbringing—a village-like community with easy access to the essentials—informs how he serves the community at the pharmacy.
Coordinating with pharmacists, Brandon helps TFH patients take delivery of affordable medications. He ensures the store is stocked with other essentials—from over-the-counter medication and personal-hygiene items to assorted goods and sundries.
HOW HAS THE PHARMACY EVOLVED IN YOUR ALMOST-YEAR THERE?
Initially people assumed The Floating Hospital Pharmacy was only for our patients, but with the help of social media advertising and neighborhood outreach, and a more visible sidewalk presence, people started coming in, and our volume has doubled since we opened.
With our limited space, it’s hard to have everything people need, but if someone comes in for something and we don’t have it, we now can order it for next day. And, we’ve become good at second-guessing what they’ll need: If someone comes in for something that we didn’t sell before, we will have it for the next time they come in. We’ve also improved our snack selection after hearing feedback—many of our patients have small children and need something to tide them over during the long commute back to their shelters. We recently developed a customer loyalty program, which I hope will be a real community builder and also help us understand our customer needs better.
WHAT DISTINGUISHES THE FLOATING HOSPITAL PHARMACY FROM OTHER DRUGSTORES?
In our pharmacy, our customers aren’t just a number: They are people who we develop relationships with. Our pharmacists create a comfortable space for anyone to ask questions about their health or medications, our clerks greet every customer with a smile, and can help answer questions about the pharmacy and the clinic. There’s just a good feeling about being there for the community when they need us, and I think that spreads to our customers.
HOW DOES THE PHARMACY SYNC WITH THE FLOATING HOSPITAL’S MISSION?
We serve The Floating Hospital’s mission of making sure everyone can access good healthcare. We participate in the 340B program, a federal program headed by the National Health Resources and Services Administration that gives our uninsured patients the ability to purchase medication at prices less than retail. Sometimes people are forgotten in the math of this kind of business: We always remember that people are not just numbers, and they shouldn’t have to decide between purchasing their medication or feeding themselves or their family because they’re uninsured.
We really understand access to medication extends beyond just health needs. We are fortunate to have this program so that our patients who don’t have insurance can still have access to the medications that those with insurance do.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT THE RETAIL PHARMACY BUSINESS?
Running a store isn’t easy. There’s constant tracking of inventory and finances, maintaining cleanliness … many things beneath the surface. Getting a business off the ground takes working long hours, but when you care about the job, the hours don’t matter. It wasn’t until I attended conferences and talked with industry people that I fully understood what the pharmacy world entailed, and I’ve learned so much about it since joining the team.
It takes a special person to work in a pharmacy—someone who cares about every person’s prescription they’re filling. It takes patience because not everything runs smoothly. Computers go down, customers become frustrated, things break or go missing. But none of that has stopped our momentum. We are a community that helps each other out and one where everyone has the same goal: to provide medication for the people.
DID YOU HAVE ANY CHALLENGES RELATED TO THE COVID-19 CRISIS?
Since we’re an essential business, we worked full hours and figured out how to keep serving customers who were quarantined and needed their medications. We implemented delivery into our program, and since then, it has become a part of our business. Though 2020 has been a rough year for the world, at least for us in the pharmacy, we are trying to make it a year to remember in a positive way.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR GROWING THE PHARMACY?
I’m looking to build up our over-the-counter products. Even with the limited space that we have, I’m introducing new products to the pharmacy, such as a range of CBD products and Ketogenic supplements. I am hoping to bring a lot more to the pharmacy so our community can have access to the things that they want that aren’t always easy to find locally. At The Floating Hospital Pharmacy, we want to have something for everybody.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
The Floating Hospital provides high-quality healthcare to anyone who needs it regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, immigration or insurance status, or the ability to pay. By providing unrestricted medical care in tandem with health education and social support to vulnerable New York City families, The Floating Hospital aims to ensure those most in need have the ability to thrive, not just survive.