Fort Hill Pharmacy in Groton closing after 58 years

Employees, from left, Allania Porter, Jayne Wright, Eric Davis and owner Phani Daggubati work on filling prescriptions and taking orders at Fort Hill Pharmacy in Groton on Monday, September 24, 2018. The business, one of the last independent pharmacies in the region, will close Wednesday after being bought out by CVS.  (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
Employees, from left, Allania Porter, Jayne Wright, Eric Davis and owner Phani Daggubati work on filling prescriptions and taking orders at Fort Hill Pharmacy in Groton on Monday, September 24, 2018. The business, one of the last independent pharmacies in the region, will close Wednesday after being bought out by CVS. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)

Groton — Locally owned Fort Hill Pharmacy survived the ups and downs of the business cycle for nearly six decades, but with drug reimbursement rates from insurance companies having been sharply curtailed recently, the store has announced its last day will be Wednesday.

It had been one of the last of the independent pharmacies to survive in this region. But now its customers are being sent to the CVS nearby, with promises that home delivery and blister pack service will be honored by the national chain that acquired Fort Hill's business.

"It will be a seamless transition," promised pharmacy manager Phani Daggubati of Groton, a member of the group that bought Fort Hill three years ago. "Some of the people working here are moving there."

Nagy Wassef, who owns independent The Medicine Shoppe pharmacies in New London, Old Saybrook and Vernon, said he was surprised at the sudden closure of Fort Hill, which he described as a solid company. But he agreed that drug-reimbursement system changes over the past few years have made it increasingly difficult to run a business, with pharmacies increasingly having to give back money based on patient-adherence data that penalizes them when customers do not pick up their medicines.

He said the penalties can cost pharmacies such as his $15,000 to $20,000 every quarter.

"It's really getting ugly," he said, referring to independent pharmacies.

He pointed out that the Quality Care pharmacy that opened on Ocean Avenue in New London a few years ago already had sold out to CVS.

As for his own business, Wassef said "We're staying around and even looking for ways to expand. ... I think local is important. You can always come to the store and solve a problem."

Fort Hill Pharmacy dates to 1960, and for many years it was run by the Messina family. James Messina opened the drugstore on Fort Hill Road, and when he suddenly died in 1986 his son Jeffrey took over.

Jeffrey Messina quickly made his mark, becoming one of the first pharmacy owners to ban tobacco sales in his store, despite losing thousands of dollars in business because of the move. He later became the first person to win the Groton Adolescent Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition Good Neighbor Award.

Shortly before selling the pharmacy business three years ago, Messina opened Fort Hill Medical on 980 Poquonnock Road, selling walkers, wheelchairs and other medical equipment. He later sold the business, according to Wassef.

Fort Hill manager Daggubati said CVS, like other drugstores, is having to adapt to new competition and therefore has agreed to continue free home delivery and prepackaged drugs called blister packs that help patients keep track of dosages and preserve the integrity of pills.

CVS is responding to Amazon.com's purchase of the mail-order pharmacy PillPack, he said.

"Delivery is the key, and they're going to keep delivery," Daggubati said. "If you don't, you're left out."

Daggubati said he will stay with CVS for a couple weeks to help in the transition. He noted that CVS is open 24 hours, which will help some people concerned that Fort Hill had more limited hours and was closed on Sunday.

"We thank all the customers for all their help over the years," Daggubati added.

l.howard@theday.com

 

A customer walks into Fort Hill Pharmacy in Groton on Monday, September 24, 2018. The business, one of the last independent pharmacies in the region, will close Wednesday after being bought out by CVS.  (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
A customer walks into Fort Hill Pharmacy in Groton on Monday, September 24, 2018. The business, one of the last independent pharmacies in the region, will close Wednesday after being bought out by CVS. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
Jayne Wright fills a prescription at Fort Hill Pharmacy in Groton on Monday, September 24, 2018. The business, one of the last independent pharmacies in the region, will close Wednesday after being bought out by CVS.  (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
Jayne Wright fills a prescription at Fort Hill Pharmacy in Groton on Monday, September 24, 2018. The business, one of the last independent pharmacies in the region, will close Wednesday after being bought out by CVS. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
Employee Cheryl Gardner works on the computer at Fort Hill Pharmacy in Groton on Monday, September 24, 2018. The business, one of the last independent pharmacies in the region, will close Wednesday after being bought out by CVS.  (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
Employee Cheryl Gardner works on the computer at Fort Hill Pharmacy in Groton on Monday, September 24, 2018. The business, one of the last independent pharmacies in the region, will close Wednesday after being bought out by CVS. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
Jayne Wright, center, works with other employees at Fort Hill Pharmacy in Groton on Monday, September 24, 2018. The business, one of the last independent pharmacies in the region, will close Wednesday after being bought out by CVS.  (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
Jayne Wright, center, works with other employees at Fort Hill Pharmacy in Groton on Monday, September 24, 2018. The business, one of the last independent pharmacies in the region, will close Wednesday after being bought out by CVS. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)

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